Israel – biological warfare

Israel has two giant secrets. The  country’s worst kept secret is the  Dimona nuclear program that  Mordechai Vanunu blew wide open in  the 5730s/1970s. However, one of  Israel’s best kept secrets is hidden  behind the six-foot walls of Israel’s  Chemical and Biological Weapons  (CBW) program buildings. Although  everyone suspects that Israel has something  hidden up her sleeve, no one  knows exactly what is going on in the  laboratories and basements of the Israel  Institute for Biological Research  (IIBR), sited in Nes Tzionah, about  thirteen miles south of Tel Aviv. 

An official description of the institute  admits that it is “backed by five  decades of experience. IIBR combines  highly trained personnel with cutting edge  technologies and infra-structure to  conduct applied research and development  in the fields of biology, medicinal  chemistry and environmental sciences,  in addition to basic research studies  emanating from and closely related to  IIBR’s applied projects… Its three scientific  divisions – Biology, Medicinal  Chemistry and Environmental Sciences  – cooperate in a synergistic relationship,  enabling the formation of optimum  interdisciplinary teams and technologies  tailored to the needs of each  individual project.”

However, it is widely suspected that  this is only part of the truth. After all,  Israel has steadfastly refused to sign the  5732/1972 Biological & Toxin  Weapons Convention (BTWC) that  includes a pledge: “Not to develop,  produce, stockpile, or otherwise  acquire or obtain microbial or other  biological agents or toxins of types and  in quantities that have no justification  for prophylactic, protective, or other  peaceful purposes.” Israel did, however,  sign a less stringent 5685/1925  Geneva Protocol, in 5729/1969.

How did the institute begin? After  World War II, when nations worldwide  scrambled desperately to recruit the scientists  who developed its lethal  weapons, Israel was no exception.  Shortly before Israel announced its  independence in 5708/1948, the future  Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion  ordered a Jewish Agency operative in  Europe, Ehud Avriel, to recruit East  European Jewish scientists with the  know-how to “either increase the  capacity to kill masses or to cure masses;  both are important.”

Efraim Katzir, one of the founders of  the Israeli Biological Institute (originally  known as HEMED BEIT) admitted  in 5753/1993 that, at that time,  Israel began investigating chemical and  biological defenses and weapons.

“We planned various activities to get  a sense of what CBW is and how we  could build a potential should there be  a need for such a potential,” he told a  reporter. “We needed to know how to  defend… We knew that in the surrounding  countries others were also  developing biological weapons. Scientists  should contribute to the strengthening  of the State of Israel.”

This was not unusual. By the  5710s/1950s, the United States, England  and France had highly developed  CBW programs. Arab nations, too, did  not hesitate to develop and use chemical  weapons. In the 5720s/1960s, an  Egyptian facility at Abu Za’aba, ten  kilometers from Cairo, produced tear  and mustard gas and other chemicals,  and used them, in 5723/1963, during  the Yemen civil war at the village of Al  Kawama in North Yemen. Four years  later, in 5727/1967, nine Egyptian  bombers dropped chemicals on the  Yemen village of Kitaf, killing hundreds.  This spurred Israel to purchase tensof-  thousands of gas masks shortly  before the Six-Day War. In the  5730s/1970s, Egypt supplied chemical  weapons to Syria. 

Israel’s first brush with CBW began  just after World War II, before the  founding of the state; when a group of  Holocaust survivors began searching  for ways and means to partially avenge  the murder of millions of Jews. They  organized a group of survivors, who  called themselves “The Avengers,” and  dreamt up a scheme to poison Nazi  criminals jailed in European prisons  and former concentration camps,  including Dachau.

According to Yosef Harmatz who  was one of the conspirators, David  Ben-Gurion and Zalman Shazar rejected  the plan and, in the end, it was Dr.  Chaim Weizmann who gave their idea  the green light and helped them get  hold of the necessary chemicals.  Abba Kovner, who had headed Jewish  armed resistance against the Nazis  in Vilna and afterwards fled to the  forests and fought as a partisan, was  chosen to execute the plan. Armed with  forged papers that identified him as a  soldier of the Jewish Brigade, he boarded  a ship to France. Stashed among his  belongings were cans of condensed  milk that had been emptied and filled  with poison.

Kovner was probably betrayed by  Jews who feared that his plot would  have severe repercussions if its perpetrators  were ever identified. The British  double-checked his papers and discovered  they were forgeries, and Kovner  had barely enough time to toss his  incriminating cans overboard into the  sea.

The Avengers now planned a more  modest revenge. In April 5705/1945,  members of the group broke into the  Stalag-13 camp, near Nuremberg, and  Harmatz applied poison to three thousand  loaves of black bread with a  brush. Research heads at Yerushalayim’s  Yad Vashem museum insist that the results were negligible in contradiction  to Harmatz’s claim that three hundred  to four hundred Nazis died.  Since then, in all the tens-of-thousands  of pages of Arab anti-Zionist literature,  there have been relatively few  accusations that Israel has ever utilized  CBW.

On the other hand, Israel’s simple  biological institute sited in the midst of  an orange grove has slowly grown into  a giant research complex, surrounded  by concrete walls and electric sensors.  The facility does not appear in maps  and aerial photographs, and its employees  are strictly barred from having any  contact with the media. 

The institute maintained almost perfect  secrecy until the 5750s/1990s  when its cover was almost blown away  by the Klingberg fiasco.

In the summer of 5745/1985, British  investigative reporter, Peter Pringle,  was hot on the trail of the “yellow rain”  story. The Reagan administration  claimed that the Soviet Union had used  a fungal BW poison in Afghanistan.  (The claim was later refuted).  Pringle heard that, as a member of  the Red Army Medical Corps during  World War II, Prof. Klingberg had  helped investigate a mysterious poison  that killed thousands of peasants in  Kazakhstan. Klingberg and his colleagues  discovered that the poison was  created by an outbreak of fungus in the  local granaries. Could there be a connection  between this fungal plague and  the “yellow rain?” Now Pringle hoped  to hear more about the story from  Klingberg in Israel. But he got no further  than the institute’s front gates.

“No entry!” he was informed, after  an impatient half-hour wait.

Speaking to Klingberg’s colleagues  was not much help, either.

“Each time I mentioned his name to  his Israeli colleagues, they said his disappearance  was hush-hush,” he wrote.  “But they did not believe the official  explanation that he had fallen (mentally)  ill in Switzerland and disappeared.”

A brief newspaper report from two  years earlier noted that “nobody knows  where the head of the department of Tel  Aviv University disappeared nine  months ago.” Even Klingberg’s wife,  Wanda, who worked as a microbiologist  at the institute, refused to discuss  his whereabouts. Then the government  seemed to get involved.

“I took time off to visit a crusader  castle at Ashkelon,” Pringle wrote. “My  car was broken into and my briefcase,  containing papers about Klingberg and  my passport, was stolen… A few  months later, the police returned the  briefcase and my passport but some  papers and photocopies of newspaper  articles from the Tel Aviv archives were  missing.”

Pringle realized that he had run up  against a brick wall: Klingberg was  officially a persona non grata.  Although his subsequent report of  the story in the London Observer  stirred up a flurry of interest about  Klingberg’s whereabouts, twelve  Israeli papers were quietly instructed  by the Israeli military censor to leave  the matter strictly alone. Journalists  were forbidden to even mention Klingberg’s  name.  What had happened to Professor  Klingberg?

(To be continued)

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