Israel Opts to Stay Vague on Chemical Arms in Wake of Syria Disarmament

Security cabinet sticks to decision not to ratify chemical arms treaty, despite contrary opinions voiced by defense officials.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Israel's security cabinet is sticking to its decision not to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention – even though top defense figures have come out in favor of the treaty, a senior official said. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the cabinet a few weeks ago to discuss Israel’s policy on the pact, which outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. Israel has signed but not ratified the treaty in the Knesset or cabinet. At the end of the meeting the ministers decided to continue with the existing policy.

The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the debate was held in the wake of the agreement between Russia and the United States about dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons and allowing the UN inspectors to act in Syria.

Although Israel signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, by not ratifying the accord it declines to subject itself to the treaty. Meanwhile, Israeli officials have commented on foreign media reports about alleged stockpiles of chemical weapons and the demand to dismantle them.

Netanyahu raised the issue at a security cabinet session dealing with the situation in Syria, after the ministers heard surveys about the process of destroying Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons.

The session did not last long and no vote was held. Both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said they believed that Israel should not change its policy regarding the convention, nor bring it to the cabinet or Knesset for ratification, the official said.

After a short consultation the ministers decided to maintain Israel’s existing policy on the matter, he said.

An Israeli official familiar with the Chemical Weapons Convention issue said that despite Netanyahu and Ya’alon’s objection, a large number of senior defense officials believe that in view of Syria’s agreement to disarm itself of chemical weapons, Israel should ratify the treaty.

“Ratifying the treaty could have strategic and economic advantages,” the official said.

According to foreign media reports, Israel has a stockpile of various chemical weapons. Historian Avner Cohen wrote in his book, “Israel and the Bomb,” that Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, secretly ordered the development of chemical weapons during the Sinai Campaign in 1956.

A few weeks ago, following Syria’s announcement that it was ready to dismantle its chemical weapons, Israel has been called on, especially by Russian officials and Syrian officials in Assad’s regime, to ratify the convention as well.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Haaretz at the time that Israel would not ratify the weapons convention as long as other states in the region that possess chemical weapons refuse to recognize Israel and call for its destruction.

Palmor said terror organizations acting for those states could also use chemical weapons.

“Israel signed the treaty, but regrettably other states in the region that have used chemical weapons recently or in the past, as well as states we believe are improving their chemical weapons, said they would not sign the treaty even if Israel ratifies it,” Palmor said.

“The threat of using chemical weapons against the civilian Israeli population is not theoretical or distant. Israel cannot ignore this threat when it deliberates whether to ratify the treaty or not,” he said.

The Prime Minister's Office refused to comment.

About a month ago the UN Security Council issued a unanimous resolution to scrap Syria's chemical weapons.

A joint mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN has been acting in Syria, with the intention of completing the destruction or removal of chemical weapons from it by June 30 next year.

On Monday this week UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon submitted the mission's first report to the Security Council. The inspectors visited 37 of the 41 chemical weapons facilities that Syria had declared. They could not visit the remaining four facilities due to battles in the area, they reported.

The inspection mission intends at the first stage to ensure that Syria can no longer make new chemical weapons. On November 1 Syria is scheduled to complete the "functional destruction" of all equipment to produce chemical arms. Ban told the Security Council that Syria is cooperating with the inspectors.

Headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW, in The Hague, Netherlands, Sept. 27, 2013 file photo.Credit: AP