Time ripe to rid Middle East of chemical weapons
November 20th, 2013
09:29 AM ET

Time ripe to rid Middle East of chemical weapons

By Barry M. Blechman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Barry M. Blechman is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan international security think tank. The views expressed are his own.

The world will be a safer place if the surprising agreement that led to the promised destruction of Syria’s stockpile of deadly chemical weapons can pave the way for the banning of such weapons from the entire Middle East and eventually the world.

The next move is up to Israel and Egypt.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad surprised the world in September when he agreed to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention barring the use of such weapons and to permit the supervised destruction of all his chemical weapon stocks. The move was designed to halt an expected U.S. bombing campaign against his country after al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people in the Syrian civil war.

While things could certainly go south in a Damascus minute, so far Syria has carried out its pledge to declare the amounts, types and locations of its lethal chemicals. Inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have confirmed the declaration and placed the materials under seal, and also destroyed Syria’s means of producing new chemical weapons. The group also said last week that it had approved a road map for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons by the middle of next year.

A total of 190 nations have ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, while Israel and Myanmar have signed but not ratified the treaty. Ratifying the treaty would require that Israel declare if it has chemical weapons and – if so – to identify the locations, types and amounts of the weapons, just as Syria has done. Israel would then have to prepare a plan for the supervised destruction of any chemical weapons it has under the watchful eyes of the OPCW.

More from CNN: Will Syria hide some weapons?

If it has no chemical weapons, Israel need only declare that fact and accept the possibility that OPCW inspectors would have the option to check chemical plants that produce toxic materials for commercial purposes – such as some insecticides – to ensure the materials were not being diverted for weapons use. All other members of the Chemical Weapons Convention accept the same possibility of inspections.

My guess is that Israel does not have chemical weapons. Given the murder of millions of Jews in Hitler’s gas chambers, there is a particular repugnance within the Jewish state for such weapons. Iranians, who lost tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians to chemical weapons in their war with Iraq in the 1980s, are also repelled by such weapons.

Moreover, Israel has no need for chemical weapons. It has a small but diversified arsenal of nuclear weapons that presumably provide a more than sufficient deterrent against others’ weapons of mass destruction.

Why then hasn’t Israel ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention?  Perhaps it fears that its policy of “opacity” concerning nuclear weapons would come under greater pressure if it were open about its possible chemical weapon stocks. Or perhaps it does not want to establish the precedent of inspections on its territory.

More from GPS: A smarter way to stop Syria WMD

In addition, elimination of the possibility that they maintain chemical weapons might be seen by Israeli decision-makers as putting more pressure on their nation to eliminate its nuclear arsenal.

If Israel were to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention, Egypt would be the only nation in the Middle East remaining outside the treaty. A decision by Egypt to give up its chemical weapons might be more difficult than Israel’s, as Egypt doesn’t have nuclear weapons. But what good are its chemical weapons, really?

The only positive result of the ghastly war in Syria has been the outpouring of universal disgust that followed Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Moreover, as was demonstrated in the Iran-Iraq War – and by Egypt’s use of chemical weapons in a civil war in Yemen decades ago – while chemical weapons can kill or disable unprotected soldiers (and civilians), they cannot win wars.

If Israel signed the treaty banning chemical weapons, perhaps Egypt would follow. Egypt would likely not see military value in maintaining its chemical stocks and recognize that eliminating these weapons from the Middle East would focus a harsher world gaze at Israel’s nukes.

Conceivably, a state with reasonably cordial ties with both Israel and Egypt could quietly broker an agreement in which both, unilaterally, took the steps necessary to fulfill the commitments required by the Chemical Weapons Convention.

If Israel and then Egypt took this next step, the only states remaining outside the Chemical Weapons Convention would be those few that have no reason to refuse to sign and ratify (Angola, Myanmar and South Sudan), and one more – North Korea – that is likely to be more difficult to convince to join. Even so, eliminating chemical weapons from the Middle East – the world’s most unstable region – would be a huge accomplishment, both in reducing the risk that terrorists might acquire the weapons and in nudging the region a few inches toward a more stable future.

Humanity abhors chemical weapons. The leaders of Israel and Egypt have an opportunity to do some good for all our futures.

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Topics: Conflict • Egypt • Israel • Middle East • Syria

soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Felix Unger

    What evidence does this Barry Blechman have that the Assad regime ever used chemical weapons against his own people? None, I bet! Another way the right-wing media is trying to misinform us!

    November 20, 2013 at 11:41 am | Reply
    • BRANDON

      your an idiot

      November 22, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Reply
      • Trevor

        I second the motion...

        November 22, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
  2. matslats

    What about nuclear weapons? Oh no we have a monopoly on them....
    the time is ripe to disarm our enemies...

    November 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Reply
  3. chrissy

    Oh puhleeeeze! What is this clown smoking??? Of course Israel has chemical weapons and they've had them for years! We helped pay for them even! Just because they won't allow inspections? Good grief! And WHY would they have any say about Syria anyway? Israel is just pushing for a war and they aren't even particular anymore with who they have it with, just as long as they can s u c k us into it!

    November 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Reply
    • Trevor

      Israel is pushing for what against Syria? An offensive war? You're talking about what kind of "war"? Precision military strikes into Syria on a large scale? They've already hit Syrian targets multiple times in limited scope since this civil war began and I've heard of zero reports that they have requested any help from the U.S.. A ground "invasion"? Suicidal and of NO BENEFIT whatsoever.

      November 22, 2013 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  4. ✠RZ✠

    Let me think about this.... back charge the government for nine hundred million dollars worth of chemical weapons ten years ago, and then another one hundred million dollars to dispose of them all last year. Sounds good, no more chemical weapons and here's your bill for "one billion dollars". Just add it to the national debt, no one will even notice.

    November 20, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Reply
  5. JAL

    Carrying these weapons means carrying more stress.

    November 21, 2013 at 8:02 am | Reply
  6. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    "World peace?"
    "There will be peace in the valley."
    Is it to my advantage, as a USA citizen, for Israel to have nuclear weapons?
    You bet it is.

    November 21, 2013 at 8:15 am | Reply
    • James

      How is it that Israel having nukes benefits Americans?! They are actually a threat! It gives other countries in the region a reason to puruse nuclear weapons, which history shows is the case. Our whole issue with Iran is becasue of fear of that possibility. If we a nuclear free mideast that includes a nuclear free Isral. No exceptions. No ifs, ands, or buts!

      November 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Reply
      • Trevor

        You really think that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons because it "fears" Israel's nukes? Israel has had them for 40+ years and Iran has only sought nukes for the past 10 or so...reason? Take a look across the Arabian Gulf and you'll have your answer...

        November 22, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  7. chrissy

    Well yea its to your advantage if you want Israel to start wars for us to get in i guess. I just dont get it.

    November 21, 2013 at 9:26 am | Reply
    • ✠RZ✠

      So far, nukes have been a strategic peace keeper and a means to ensure self preservation from complete invasion. And as far as I know, there has only been one country insane enough to have actually used the likes thereof, which is kind of a sad and shameful lesson in a sense. But simply put, nukes are very scary toys meant only for big boys who must have enough common sense never to use them unless it means the end. We cannot permit these things to ever fall in the hands of any regime that condones or promotes suicide bombing, which many will argue already exists.

      November 21, 2013 at 10:20 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      @chrissy, What if Iran is, right now, about where we were in 1943? Iran is working under sand, but you can see Los Alamos from backstage at the Santa Fe Opera. Don't forget that most Iranians say, "Allah is greater." When Harry Truman bombed Hiroshima, it did not mean, as @RZ called it, "the end," because we were running the only game in town. Yes, now I do want a nuclear ally is Israel.

      November 21, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Reply
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        "In" Israel, not "it."

        November 21, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
      • ✠ RZ ✠

        In terms of proliferating nukes by country, the US wins hands down. You just don't see Russia or China trying to push missiles into Iran, Syria, Libya, Brazil, or whatever other allied countries. Why not ?
        In all liklihood we do have nukes in Israel and Saudi Arabia. But if Iran did have nukes, what would happen if they used them unilaterally against Israel? And conversely, what would happen right now if Israel used them unilaterally against Iran? Or North Korea against the South, or vice versa? Heck, the US can't even bomb Syria using conventional weapons without instigating WWIII.

        November 21, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
      • Trevor

        RZ- Which countries has the U.S. either sold, or given nuclear weapons technology to?

        November 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
      • ✠RZ✠

        @ Trevor, Both French and Israeli scientists were part or certainly took part in the knowledge of the Manhattan Project. Additionally, the US has supplied some 480 B61 thermonuclear bombs to five so-called “non-nuclear states”, including Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Casually disregarded by the Vienna based UN Nuclear Watchdog (IAEA), the US has actively contributed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons in Western Europe.

        November 24, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
  8. j. von hettlingen

    The OPCW inspectors are facing a problem in getting rid of the 1000 tons of chemical weapons in Syria. Destroying them in the country is a daunting task, due to the on-going civil war. Assad said he didn't have the money to build special plants to have the weapons destroyed there. No country is willing to allow these toxic piles destroyed on their soil. As long as they are not properly disposed of, they still pose a risk to the region.

    November 21, 2013 at 9:57 am | Reply
    • ✠RZ✠

      JVH, Had Washington not been stopped it is almost a certainty that Syria's weapon depots would have been on the first list of strategic targets, whether they contained chemical weapons or not (as if they would say "Oh, you can't strike that depot, it might have some chemical weapons! More like "In that case, level it to the ground and make sure everything is thoroughly vaporized, just in case". In addition to wantonly conducting such strikes which would also likely kill a lot of people and potentially release goodness knows what amounts of chemicals into the local environment, it seems so hypocritical to now say "oh look chemical weapons, we must dispose of those in a perfectly proper manner". What a crock!

      November 21, 2013 at 10:47 am | Reply
  9. sa majeste

    What are the essence of chemical weapons if it is not in preparation for war. Why not destroy alll the weapons for once

    November 21, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Reply
  10. dave

    The roots of American conspiracy theories....

    November 21, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Reply
  11. saywhat

    Rid M.east of chemical weapons, yes.
    Also though any nuclear armed nation in the volatile M.East is a threat to world peace.I agree with thoughts expressed by @chrissy.
    Time indeed to rid M.East of WMDS.Period
    In fact rid the world of WMDS , a Utopian though but still a thought.

    November 21, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  12. saywhat

    Another thought. Iran develops a nuclear bomb against 300 of Israel's. India has them ,Pakistan has them. So?
    Isn't deterrent the name of the game. That was the premise when major powers developed these horrific weapons and heaped them.
    Only one militarily aggressive nation in the M.East to have them and none other is outright folly

    November 21, 2013 at 9:28 pm | Reply
  13. saywhat

    And yes a WMD free M.East would unquestionably be in US interest.

    November 21, 2013 at 9:31 pm | Reply
  14. saywhat

    blocked now.

    November 21, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Reply
  15. saywhat

    Hey GPS don't get into this habit of blocking comments.

    November 21, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Reply
  16. matt

    Al Quaeda rebels were arrested in Turkey back in May of this tear with sarin gas. What makes you think that they didn't use chemical weapons in Syria?

    November 22, 2013 at 12:53 am | Reply
  17. matt

    Why would our gov't be backing rebels with al Qeada factions in it? Did Washington forget the 9/11 attacks?

    November 22, 2013 at 12:57 am | Reply
  18. James

    How is it that Israel having nukes benefits Americans?! They are actually a threat! It gives other countries in the region a reason to puruse nuclear weapons, which history shows is the case. Our whole issue with Iran is becasue of fear of that possibility. If we a nuclear free mideast that includes a nuclear free Isral. No exceptions. No ifs, ands, or buts!

    November 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  19. saywhat

    Rightly said@James.
    but would our dual loyalty lawmakers go that way? Hardly.
    "I fought the elections and got elected to the Senate to fight for Israel's survivor" Sen.Mark Kirk (R)".

    November 22, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  20. saywhat

    That is 'survival'.Pardon the mistake folks.

    November 22, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  21. You had me

    You had me at "rid the Middle East".

    November 22, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  22. saywhat

    No can do. Arabs have petro dollars and we need them to give us fat arms purchase contracts and then Israel , the doorway to save our souls in the hereafter, is also located in the M.East.
    M.East has to exist.

    November 22, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Reply
  23. clearonthispoint

    Yes, the time is right to take out Iran's nuclear facilities and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

    The proliferation of nuclear weapons is far worse than chemical weapons.

    Once a program is in place to continually take out Iran's nuclear weapons sanctions should be immediately lifted to help the Iranian people.

    November 23, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  24. krehator

    Been hearing this same promise for how long? Sorry but I think too many people are making money from it.

    November 28, 2013 at 7:03 am | Reply

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