Israeli investigative program "Uvda" (fact) reported Tuesday that dozens of soldiers belonging to elite Israel Defense Forces units have been suffering from various illnesses over the last few years after participating in a secret IDF experiment meant to aid in the development of an anthrax vaccine.
The experiment was sponsored by the Defense Ministry, and included 800 test subjects since 1999, the report said.
Channel 2's Uvda maintains that the soldiers participating in the experiment were prohibited from disclosing information regarding the experiment, event to their families. They were not allowed to talk about the experiment even after they began developing illnesses, some of them incurable.
The report reveals that some of the soldiers developed unexplained skin tumors, severe lung infections, serious migraine headaches, bronchitis and even epilepsy symptoms.
Despite the likely connection between the symptoms and the secret experiment, Channel 2 reports, the Defense Ministry and the IDF have not taken responsibility over the medical care of those soldiers undergoing treatment in civilian medical facilities.
One of the soldiers who took part in the experiment told channel 2 "They said that one group would receive the American vaccine, and the other group would receive the experimental Israel vaccine. The specifically explained to us that the vaccine is not dangerous and that we were not being injected with the actual virus, not even the dead virus. Instead, they said they would inject us with the altered DNA of the virus. They said it was very advanced."
Giora Martinovich, former chief medical officer for the IDF, went public after the television expose, telling Israel Radio that the program had been ordered amid fears of an anthrax attack by Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and because foreign-made vaccines were not available.
"It seemed clear that the Iraqis would use it (anthrax) against us," he said. "It is not possible to buy, abroad, a large quantity of vaccine, which exists only in the United States or in England. Therefore the state of Israel had to develop its own vaccine."
The Defense Ministry issued a response to the claims saying "the research was conducted in preparation for the protection of the population of Israel from a strategic threat. It was conducted under the approval of the Helsinki committee [for human experimentation] and was carried out with the help of soldiers who volunteered, who were kept under very strict medical observation. They were told in detail about the research and given the option to quit at any time."
Anthrax is a deadly bacterial disease and its spores can be used in germ warfare to infect victims. The United States has long required that its troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea be vaccinated against anthrax.