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30 Sep, 2013 12:42

Israel to ‘seriously’ consider joining chemical weapons treaty – President Peres

Israel to ‘seriously’ consider joining chemical weapons treaty – President Peres

The Israeli government will consider ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention, President Shimon Peres has announced. It follows Syria’s decision to give up its chemical arsenal.

Israel, which has never publicly admitted to having chemical weapons, remains one of only six countries in the world not to have ratified the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the use or production of chemical weapons and requires signatories to destroy their stockpiles over a period of time.

But now that the Syrian government is preparing to host experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), who are to inspect the chemicals weapons arsenals stored at several facilities in Syria, and supervise their destruction over the next nine months, the Israelis say they may join the treaty too.

“I am sure our government will consider it seriously,” Peres told reporters Monday in The Hague, which is home to the OPCW – the watchdog overseeing the convention.

The Israeli president added he believes Syria only joined the convention when faced with the threat of military force, but pledged that his government would nevertheless consider a call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for all countries to sign up to the treaty.

Syria is believed to have spent decades building up its chemical weapons program, and President Bashar Assad says that the biggest regional threat to the country’s security is Israel’s military power.

However, a recent report suggested that Israel too was stockpiling chemical and biological weapons as part of its defense against a possible attack from Arab neighbors.

A secret 1983 CIA intelligence estimate obtained by Foreign Policy magazine describes “a probable [chemical weapon] nerve agent production facility and a storage facility” located in Israel’s Negev Desert, and states that “other CW production is believed to exist within a well-developed Israeli chemical industry.”

Among the chemicals that Israel might have possessed at the time of the CIA report the “non-persistent agent” – identified by FP as nerve gas sarin – is mentioned. As of late, the Western countries have been blaming the Syrian government for using sarin against its own people.

Earlier this month, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said that Israel would be ready to discuss the issue of ratifying the chemical weapons ban treaty when there was peace in the Middle East.

Other than Israel, the countries that have not yet joined the treaty include Myanmar, Egypt, Angola, North Korea and South Sudan.