The US-Russia deal to strip President Bashar Assad of his chemical weapons stockpile has some policymakers in Jerusalem concerned that Israel may be forced to sign an international chemical weapons ban treaty, something it has been unwilling to do until now.
The Chemical Weapons Convention, an international arms control pact which bans the production and amassing of chemical weapons materiel, is ratified by 183 states. Only Israel and Myanmar have signed the treaty but not ratified it into law.
Israel refused to ratify the treaty on the claim that “there is no significance to being part of an agreement like this while a neighboring country like Syria possesses a vast stockpile of chemical weapons,” Channel 10 reported Sunday night.
“Israel cannot allow itself to be the one that everyone thinks doesn’t have chemical weapons,” retired brigadier general Yitzhak Ben-Israel, head of Tel Aviv University’s Security Studies department, told the station.
Neither Syria nor Egypt signed the CWC, and both have active chemical weapons programs. South Sudan, North Korea and Angola are the remaining non-signatory states.
According to the Channel 10 report, Israel is concerned that now that the US and Russia have reached a deal which aims to destroy Syria’s chemical stockpile by the middle of next year, the two world powers may push Israel to ratify the treaty.
As a party to the CWC, Israel would be forced to permit international inspectors access to its most sensitive security facilities, including the Dimona nuclear reactor and the Ness Ziona Biological Institute. According to a CIA document published in Foreign Policy magazine, US spy satellites in 1982 uncovered “a probable CW (chemical weapons) nerve agent production facility and a storage facility… at the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area in the Negev Desert.”
Since Israel has not ratified the treaty, it isn’t presently subjected to such inspections.
The Foreign Ministry last week stated that Israel wouldn’t ratify the CWC so long as other states in the region with chemical weapons refuse to recognize Israel and threaten to destroy it, Haaretz reported.
Despite this, should Syria be disarmed of its WMDs, officials in Israel’s defense establishment are confident that Israel can safely become a signatory to the treaty without compromising national security, the Channel 10 report said.
At a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked him for his efforts to purge Syria of chemical weapons and linked the agreement with Syria to the ongoing campaign to curb Iran’s controversial nuclear program.
“We have been closely following – and support – your ongoing efforts to rid Syria of its chemical weapons,” Netanyahu said. “The Syrian regime must be stripped of all its chemical weapons, and that would make our entire region a lot safer.
“The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don’t have weapons of mass destruction because as we’ve learned once again in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction, they will use them. The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron, Iran. Iran must understand the consequences of its continual defiance of the international community, by its pursuit toward nuclear weapons… if diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat.”
Netanyahu earlier Sunday expressed cautious optimism about the deal, stressing that the proof of its effectiveness would be in deeds, not words.
Officials in Jerusalem said late Saturday Israel would of course be delighted to see the Assad regime stripped of chemical weapons, but that it was wary of the unfolding diplomatic framework and concerned that Assad was bent on buying time and won’t adhere to the timeline.