"...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an outdated way of thinking that is no longer compatible with reality – and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
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."
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
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