Israel wouldn't dare use nerve gas. So why not destroy it?
Last week the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced that its inspectors successfully verified the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons production centers.
By mid-2014, hundreds of tons of Syria's chemical arsenal (mustard and sarin gas, VX and other nerve agents) are also due to be destroyed.
Two weeks ago, on October 14, Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) which went into force in 1997. Syria is the 190th state party to the treaty, which outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons and their precursors.
The latest Syrian move leaves only two Middle Eastern countries outside the treaty: Israel and Egypt. Only six countries worldwide have not joined the CWC. Four- Egypt, North Korea, South Korea and Angola – have neither signed the treaty nor ratified it. Two, Myanmar and Israel, did sign but did not ratify.
Chemical weapons are considered a strategic deterrent of the poor and less developed countries which do not possess nuclear weapons.
This was the rationale of Arab countries such as Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Syria, which acquired chemical weapons in response to Israel's military supremacy and the universal understanding that Israel also belongs to the prestigious nuclear club.
Saddam Hussein's secret chemical program was dismantled following the first Gulf War of 1990. America-British pressure forced Moamar Ghadafi to follow suit by in 2004, fearing he would be their next target. And recently, under US threat of military force, Bashar Assad's Syria was also coerced.
Egypt, which used chemical weapons after invading Yemen in the mid 1960's, remains the only Arab nation to possess these weapons. Despite Cairo's denials, it is widely believed to have an active chemical weapons program.
In the 1990's Israel almost ratified the CWC, but at the last moment decided to abstain. One of the reasons for this decision was concern that OPCW inspectors would gain access to secret military installations.
However, in its dialogue with OPCW officials and the international community, Israel has failed to explain the logic behind its refusal to ratify the treaty. The Israeli rationale is similar to that of South Korea’s. Both countries refuse to join the CWC as long as North Korea and Egypt do not, and are unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.
Recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consulted with some of his cabinet ministers and chiefs of security on the question of whether Israel should change its policy. It was an informal consultation and most participants shared the view that there was no need to do so.
This is an unfortunate conclusion. Israel is the strongest nation in the region. The events of the "Arab Spring" have further improved Israel's geostrategic posture. Its enemies and rivals – Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Egypt - have been tremendously weakened. Iran is in serious negotiations with the West to slow down its nuclear program.
Israel's military supremacy, enhanced by its supposed nuclear weapons, is unrivaled. Based on foreign reports, it is assumed that the chemical program is not active and has been put on hold for some time. Thus, militarily speaking Israel does not need chemical weapons for its security.
From the moral-ethical perspective, it is inconceivable to think that Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, half of which perished 70 years ago in the Nazi gas chambers, would have dared use chemical weapons.
So what purposes and national interests are served by not ratifying the CWC? Israel should reconsider its position.
Yossi Melman is a commentator on Israeli security and intelligence issues and co-author of "Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars."