JERUSALEM — The U.S.-Russian plan to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons is drawing attention to Israel’s own suspected chemical stockpile and could raise pressure on the Jewish state to come clean about its capabilities.
Israel signed the landmark international treaty banning the production or use of chemical weapons two decades ago, but it is among a handful of nations that have never ratified the deal. While foreign experts widely believe that Israel likely possesses a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, Israeli officials refuse to confirm or deny the existence of any such arsenal.
They said the key issue right now is Syria, not Israel.
In a radio interview on Monday, former Defense Minister Amir Peretz declined to discuss the country’s chemical weapons capabilities but said the international community’s attitude toward Israel is “different” from Syria.
“It’s clear to everyone that (Israel) is a democratic, responsible regime,” he told Israel Radio. “I very much hope and am certain that the international community will not make this a central question and we will maintain the status quo.”
Israel has been similarly vague about foreign reports of a nuclear arsenal, a policy of ambiguity aimed at deterring its enemies. But following the weekend deal between the U.S. and Russia to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014, voices have emerged calling on the government to take similar steps.
“I do believe that the Israeli government should be open about this issue, should say what arsenal, if any, it does have and should strive for an international agreement to keep all these kinds of weapons outside of the Middle East,” said opposition lawmaker Dov Khenin.
The liberal daily Haaretz wrote in an editorial Monday that the chemical disarmament of Syria gives Israel an opportunity to finally ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention.
“It would be a pity if in the future Israel finds itself in the position of Syria – forced to sign the convention under international pressure,” the newspaper said.
Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Israel could not ratify the treaty in such an uncertain environment. “These things are regional and we’re not going to go out there on our own,” he said.