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Richard Silverstein: Syria Has No Monopoly on Chemical Weapons

Recent news reports claim that western powers, including Israel, may be preparing to intervene in the Syrian civil war. The justification would be that the Assad regime is either preparing sarin gas (according to some reports) for use against rebel forces or communities or engaging in suspicious behavior that might indicate preparations to use its chemical weapons (according to others).

assi Dayan screenshotBefore I get into the body of this post, I want to make clear that the use of chemical weapons is absolutely a red line and any regime using it or even preparing to do so has lost any legitimacy. Intervention in such circumstances would be justified (though the idea that Israel should be involved in such an operation in any way is foolhardy given the history between these two countries). However, I have not seen any convincing or definitive evidence offered to prove that Assad is planning to do what western sources are claiming. Until I do, such a justification for intervention lacks credibility.

But Israel too has ordered the use of chemical and biological weapons against its adversaries. In 1948, the Palmach planned two major operations that would’ve involved the poisoning of enemy Arab forces and civilian communities. Moshe Dayan’s son, Assi, writes for the first time in a memoir published in Yediot, that during the war his father brought home tubes which turned out to contain typhus. The intention was to drop the material into the water supply used by the Jordanian Legion and poison the most formidable military enemy Israel faced. Before the plan could be implemented, one of the tunbes broke and the only individual who was actually sickened was Dayan’s son, who nearly died. As a father, I cannot imagine the guilt I would feel at being the cause of an illness that threatened the life of my child.

Naturally daddy wasn’t around to nurse his son back to health. He was too busy conquering Palestinian towns and villages like Ramleh and expelling their inhabitants. Instead, Assi’s mother stayed by the boy’s bedside night and day until he recovered. All the while telling her son of the proud exploits of her father, who in his mind became the “pirate of fairy tales.” The very same one who caused him almost to die.

In a separate incident, two Palmach fighters (Hebrew), members of the first military unit of mistarvim (undercover operatives dressed like Arabs), infiltrated Gaza with several tubes of typhus which they intended to use to poison the wells (Hebrew) of the enclave. Their disguise apparently didn’t work and they were exposed and arrested. After breaking out of prison and being rearrested, they were executed by local Egyptian authorities. Their bodies have never been returned to Israel.

In these cases, Israel was prepared to use biological weapons against both military and civilian targets and actually attempted to do so (in Gaza). The thing that angers me the most about Israeli attitudes towards its Arab enemies is the notion that “they” are brutal and uncivilized. “They” want to exterminate us. “They” are brutes and monsters. There is never any consideration given to the Arab belief that Israel’s actions display the same brutish disregard for human life (especially Arab). This is yet another reason why Israel has no place in any intervention plan whose justification is based on the notion that Assad may be preparing to use chemical weapons.

There will be many pro-Israel defenders who will say “that was then, this is now.” They’ll scoff at the idea that latter-day Israel would engage in anything so barbaric. I reply that Israel maintains one of the most advanced biological and chemical weapons facility in the world at Ness Ziona. They don’t maintain such expensive facilities just for the hell of it. The handiwork of this lab is used not only to prepare for war against Israel’s enemies, it is used to prepare the methods used to assassinate Palestinian leaders like Khaled Meshal (failed) and Mahmoud al-Mabouh (succeeded).

There are still nations which use biological weapons to murder their adversaries. Bulgaria did it during the Cold War. South Africa tried and failed to assassinate anti-apartheid activist, Allan Boesak. These were rogue states considered on the periphery of the civilized world. But Israel? Israel is the Only Democracy in the Middle East. A Light Unto the Nations. The Great White Hope of world Jewry. Has any Israeli leader stopped to consider the damage such activities have on Israel’s already tarnished reputation? No, of course not. Israelis care less about reputation and more about results, without stopping to think that an international reputation as a brutal oppressive regime might lead to the ultimate bad result: abandonment of Israel even by its friends.

So before Israel casts the first stone against its Arab adversaries for their alleged crimes against humanity, let those supporting it consider whether it is without sin. Then, a bit more humility and a bit less bellicosity is in order.

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