Published by The Freeman Center

The Maccabean Online

Political Analysis and Commentary
on Israeli and Jewish Affairs

"For Zion's sake I shall not hold my peace, And for Jerusalem's sake I shall not rest."

"...part of the way to cope with chemical or biological warfare threats is 
not just through defensive measures, but also through a preemptive attack. 
Such an attack will not eliminate all the threats, but it is a part of the 
solution, and it is also cheaper than the protective measures."

Chemical Weapons: Are We Ready?

By Ami Rojkes Dombe


The "Arab Spring" has increased the probability of chemical or biological weapons finding their way into the hands of terrorist organizations. Are we ready for an unconventional war?

When one speaks about the threat of an attack with chemical or biological 
weapons, one should be aware of the protection and decontamination 
challenge. Furthermore, a clear distinction should be made between threats 
with strategic aspects, which could neutralize complete districts in Israel, 
and pin-point attacks against strategic installations, intended to damage 
the functional continuity of the IDF and Israel’s critical infrastructure 
systems. Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Avigdor Klein, formerly the IDF Chief Armored 
Corps Officer (2001-2004), explains how to deal with the most horrible 
threat of all.

Chemical & Biological First

Contrary to the opinion that prevails among some of the decision makers, 
Klein claims that the threat of chemical or biological warfare weapons will 
be relevant at the outset of the war, rather than toward the end of it. "If 
someone wants to employ such a weapon, they do not do it for lack of other 
alternatives, as most people think. This is not the doomsday weapon. That is 
an outdated way of thinking that is no longer compatible with reality – and 
definitely not compatible with the character of our enemies.

"If someone understands that we have a strategic advantage and wants to 
neutralize it, they will do it at the outset of the campaign. Evidently, 
Syria has no moral qualms about the use of force, even against its own 
citizens. This means that if we engage in a confrontation with Syria, they 
will not wait for the moment of 'no choice'. Instead, the will employ these 
weapons at the outset of the war. Our strength relies on the airbases of the 
Israeli Air Force. Damaging the functional continuity of the IAF is the 
dream of every Arab strategist. The same applies to the Israeli Navy’s 
shipyards. These are the areas they would like to neutralize at the 
beginning of the fighting."

A Terrorist Attack can be More Dangerous than a Missile

Klein explains that the focus on attacks by missiles carrying chemical or 
biological warheads notwithstanding, the threat of terrorism – the ability 
to release industrial chemicals and pollute the environment - is regarded as 
more dangerous than any military threat. "In the event of a terrorist attack 
where the national ammonia storage facilities are damaged, we are talking 
about the death of hundreds of thousands within a very short time. If the 
attack takes us by surprise, without warning, we are talking about less than 
one hour of dispersal time, and anyone who fails to acquire protection by 
immediately wearing gas masks will be in mortal danger.

"If you take the Haifa area, for example, the threat will apply to the 
entire northern region, including metropolitan Haifa, the Krayot and even 
further east, if the wind is westerly. No chemical event generated by a 
missile can reach such proportions. This threat is more dangerous and easier 
to accomplish, and the event would have extreme consequences as there will 
be nothing to decontaminate. The best solution, in such a case, will be 
provided by Mother Nature. No technology can restore the situation within a 
short time."

Klein points to another form of terrorist attack: contaminating the water 
supply sources. If this is done in a planned and methodical manner at 
multiple locations – it will also be more dangerous than a missile carrying 
a chemical warhead. "This threat can wipe out a whole municipality," 
explains Klein. "Dealing with the threat of water supply contamination 
involves continuous inspection and monitoring. I have the impression that 
this is not done often enough, and that the authorities rely on an 
intelligence alert instead. Possibly because this threat does not 
distinguish between population segments, the probability for it 
materializing is lower."

Klein says that terrorism also threatens strategic installations which could 
neutralize the entire country, if damaged by chemical or biological 
contamination. If an attack should be staged against the national energy 
production facilities using a biological agent - not using a missile or 
rocket, but by inflicting a permanent biological contamination – the entire 
country will be neutralized. "Some biological contaminants can never be 
decontaminated. You will never be able to use the facility again. Spores of 
such biological agents had found their way into the hands of terrorists in 
the past, and there were attempts to mail contaminated envelopes as well 
other incidents. Certain islands around the world, where experiments were 
performed with the use of such biological weapons, remain desolate and 
uninhabited to this day. No one can get close to them."

The Target: Civilians

"Contrary to the threat to strategic installations, intentional attacks 
against the civilian population, as an objective, are not highly probable. 
The threat primarily involves collateral damage as a result of the attacks 
against those strategic installations," says Klein. "If they wish to attack 
the Kirya compound, then obviously all the civilians around it will be hit. 
One should bear in mind that during a war, no decontamination activities 
will take place in areas that are not vital to the functional continuity of 
the state or the military, such as airbases, power stations or food 
manufacturing plants. The authorities will instruct the civilians to remain 
indoors and put on their gas masks."

As opposed to terrorism, one of the most prominent disadvantages of 
ballistic missiles is the marginal effect of the damage inflicted on 
civilians as a result of inaccurate hits. According to Klein, dealing with 
this threat involves supplying gas masks and enforcing construction 
regulations prescribing the installation of ventilation systems in apartment 
buildings. "They distributed gas masks and think they solved the problem, 
but the need to be isolated from the chemical threat, be it permanent or 
volatile, is critical. A few milligrams of the agent touching the skin will 
kill a person."

"The danger is not confined to breathing, but applies to contact as well. 
For this reason, the State of Israel had residential protected space units 
(MAMADs) installed everywhere. Unfortunately, the regulation compelling all 
construction contractors to build such units was enacted only about a year 
ago, so only a small percentage of houses and apartments in Israel have such 
units. The standard method for dealing with the threat is a gas mask and a 
protected space unit fitted with a decontamination system. Anyone who does 
not possess these resources will be in mortal danger in the event of an 
attack. The state takes the cost-benefit consideration into account. If a 
chemical missile landed on Zichron-Yakov, the damage would be confined to 
the area around the point where the missile landed, according to the wind 
regime, and only a small percentage of the population would be hit."

A Matter of Priorities

To emphasize the point that maintains that the issue in question involves 
the cost-benefit considerations of the state, Klein borrows from the 
scenario of an earthquake. "An earthquake occurs in our region every 90 
years. We are already within range and know that much should be done, but 
about 50% of all buildings throughout the country still do not comply with 
the relevant standards. In other words, at least one-half of the population 
is in mortal danger, and the state does not invest all of its resources in 
it. In the event of an ABC attack, cost-benefit considerations should be 
taken into account as well. Nothing would happen to the state if a few 
points were hit. But is it just? At the state level, you must prioritize.

"The individual citizen should be aware of this. Some civilians will acquire 
protection privately. This is similar to the case of National Land Planning 
Program 38 (TMA-38). The state does not finance this activity directly, but 
explains the dangers to the citizens, so that they may decide what to do. In 
addition to encouraging the investment in residential filtration systems, 
the state can also inoculate the population against known biological weapon 
threats. This can be done according to intelligence alerts."

Military Threats

One of the questions in the context of a biological or chemical 
contamination event on the battlefield is how to cause the combat element to 
press on with the mission – both personnel and weaponry. "Today, just like 
during WWI, the assumption is that a chemical weapon is not a decisive 
weapon. It is a weapon capable of disrupting operations in a given sector, 
especially with regard to morale, and if it hinders the tactical effort in 
that sector it will be able to delay or block even operational moves, but it 
would not change the course of the entire war," says Klein.

"A distinction should be made between acquiring protection against such a 
threat, and making the equipment serviceable again after an event. In the 
case of soldiers, the rule of complete isolation from the threat applies to 
them, too – with regard to both breathing and clothing. A soldier can be 
isolated by an over-pressure chamber, like the one in tanks, in which case 
no masks will be required. The entire armored vehicle may be contaminated, 
but the soldiers inside it will continue to function normally. At some 
point, when the crew has to exit the vehicle, the exit path is 
decontaminated and then they can exit."

"Any soldier other than those operating inside a collective protection 
system like a tank must wear activated carbon protective clothing. One 
should bear in mind that this type of equipment is usable for a period of 
five to ten years, and if you need to supply such equipment to an entire 
army – it will be a huge expense for the national defense system. The State 
of Israel and the IDF invest considerable resources in this field – but the 
investment could be more substantial.

"If you face a chemical threat, activated carbon protective clothing is not 
enough. Once the particles are airborne and you are wearing a mask, an 
activated carbon suit, gloves and overshoes, you will not be able to 
function for an extended period of time. Another problem concerns the 
make-up of the clothing. As everything is made up of layers, you have a 
structure similar to a shingled roof with the shirt over the trousers. If 
you raise one arm, you will create bellows that would pump air inside. If 
you raise both arms, air will enter your leg area. At the central point of 
the event there is a high concentration of particles, and if you do not have 
the benefit of a collective protection system like the one in a MERKAVA tank 
or APC – you will have a serious problem. We cannot look the soldier's 
mother in the eye and tell her that her son is protected if he is not 
operating inside a vehicle fitted with an integral filtration system.

"Today there are two main technologies for filtering toxic gases in 
vehicles: the older (Generation I) systems, which have an operational life 
of six hours from the moment they are activated, and the newer (Generation 
II) systems, which enable one to two years of continuous operation. Some of 
the vehicles of the multinational force operating in Afghanistan are fitted 
with the new vehicle filtration systems by Beth-El Industries of Israel. 
They face extreme dust and humidity conditions over there, and everything 
works fine. For unexplained reasons, the IDF decided not to purchase these 
advanced filtration systems, although they cost the same as the existing 
Generation I systems currently in use.

"At the same time, we should all remember that war is an unpleasant business 
and there are always casualties. If the State of Israel is at war and a unit 
is hit – it is a part of the scenario. Masks and protective clothing are not 

Decontamination of Weapon Systems

Another challenge associated with chemical and biological warfare is the 
need to decontaminate weapon systems and make them serviceable again during 
the actual fighting. "In most situations, platforms that were contaminated 
cannot be 100% decontaminated, but the occupants can be extricated," 
explains Klein. "You place the vehicle itself in quarantine for six months 
up to a year and let nature take its course, and then there may be a chance 
that the vehicle would return to service.

"If no contaminating particles had entered the vehicle, there are materials 
you would be able to use to decontaminate the vehicle faster. Using these 
liquid materials, you can reach a decontamination level of more than 90%. 
These are highly aggressive alkaline compounds. Once you have applied them 
to the vehicle, you will corrode its external layer and render the engine 
unserviceable. On the other hand, some materials used by NATO are inert 
compounds. They are equally effective, but less aggressive. I am not sure 
whether these compounds are available in Israel, as they are more expensive.

"If you want to use decontamination materials to treat such platforms as 
aircraft or tanks during a war, you must keep materials on one hand for 
decontaminating aircraft and pilot gear. On the other hand, if an armored 
battalion is hit during a war, their vehicles may not be treated. You do not 
need such a capability for your entire fighting OrBat. All you need is the 
ability to treat critical elements."

What about the possibility of decontaminating a complete area that had been 
hit? "There is no such thing," says Klein. "There is no concept of 
decontaminating spaces. You decontaminate in order to evacuate casualties 
and return platforms to a serviceable state. If a chemical missile lands on 
the civilian side, then within a radius of two kilometers from the point of 
impact, plus the wind funnel in effect at the time of impact, everyone 
should remain inside the residential protective units, and they will be 
ordered to remain there for three or four days, until the chemical agent has 

"If you wish to evacuate as the biological or chemical agent is 
non-volatile, you should decontaminate the entrance area, delineate the 
evacuation area and enter it with a vehicle fitted with a collective 
filtration system, to handle one house after the other. One of the most 
complex issues is what to do with an ambulance that entered a contaminated 
area. It has no materials for decontaminating its wheels when exiting the 
area and entering the clean area, so it becomes a contaminating element, and 
even an ambulance can become disposable as it cannot be decontaminated."

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Despite the difficulties associated with acquiring protection against and 
decontaminating chemical and biological warfare agents, Klein emphasizes 
that the State of Israel is not a naïve country, and will not sit idly by 
when a war is imminent. "A part of the way to cope with chemical or 
biological warfare threats is not just through defensive measures, but also 
through a preemptive attack. Such an attack will not eliminate all the 
threats, but it is a part of the solution, and it is also cheaper than the 
protective measures."

* * * * * * * 
IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis