As chemical weapons become a concern of more and more individuals around the world, Israel’s army is working out how to deal with this threat.
The IDF already has a Center for Atomic, Biological and Chemical Warfare (ABCW) which operates a unit of soldiers. What makes this year different from previous years is that the IDF is now placing a greater focus on this unit, by designating in advance the soldiers who will be enlisted in it, as well as by extending the length of their specialized training.
"Starting this year, the soldiers of the ABCW unit were enlisted separately from the rest of the Combat Engineering Corps,” said Col. Ari Hoze, Head of the Center for ABCW. “They knew from the beginning of the enlistment process where they would be placed, familiarized themselves with the Center, and were aware of its importance. As such, we are in the process of extending the training course from five to eight months, and are increasing the intensity of the Battalion's training courses, so that it will be identical to every other battalion course."
Hoze added that the idea behind the move is to make the battalion a part of a training force. “The idea is that the Battalion will be part of a training force, with constant cooperation between its members. The Battalion will enable other forces to continue their combat operations despite an ongoing ABC attack. It will evacuate, decontaminate, and protect the forces. The Battalion knows how to detect and identify chemical warfare materials, and will help soldiers to decontaminate and return to the field. We are also strengthening the professional cohesion of the Battalion soldiers so that they will understand the need and the importance of their work."
Currently the unit takes part in operational activities in the Judea and Samaria region. In addition, the Center for ABCW does much behind-the-scenes type of work, such as training various other combat units. The Center constantly studies the field and updates combat doctrine in accordance with the innovations and developments in the field. The ABCW instructors teach soldiers how to protect themselves during a chemical attack.
As Col. Haze said, the threat to IDF soldiers has changed. "The combat soldiers are used to normative warfare, but they must know how to protect themselves and operate during a chemical attack,” he said. “We know that our neighboring states have the means, and thus the threat has changed in a way that demands a response.”
In addition to the worldwide concerns over Iran, there are also concerns of chemical weapons in Syria. According to a report by GlobalSecurity.org, Syria has been developing a chemical weapons program since the Yom Kippur War in 1973. A decision by the Syrian government in the 1980s, says the report, led to a rapid development of non-conventional weapons.
The Syrian arsenal is said to be comprised mostly of large amounts of Sarin in addition to tabun, mustard gas, and the country is reportedly producing and weaponizing VX, though the exact volumes of weapons in the arsenal are unknown.
The report also says that Syria cannot produce internally any necessary precursors to create chemical weapons, and as such relies heavily on supplies from other countries. It is believed that the most significant assistance to the Syrian chemical weapons program has come from Russia and France.
In September of 2007, Israeli forces bombed a nuclear reactor in Syria. The Los Angeles Times reported that the bombed site was meant to produce plutonium, and was partially funded by North Korea. Israel bombed the reactor before it attained its planned capacity to manufacture plutonium for nuclear weapons. Though the CIA has confirmed that it was a nuclear reactor that was bombed, Syria has denied that it possesses any nuclear capacities or chemical warfare.
There is also evidence of chemical weapons in Turkey, whose relations with Israel have been strained lately. In a recent report in the German magazine Der Spiegel, German experts confirmed the authenticity of photographs that show that PKK fighters in Turkey were killed by chemical weapons.
Col. Hoze believes that the gap between the reality of chemical warfare and the knowledge of IDF soldiers on how to deal with it will disappear by 2011. “Today there is an extensive system of inspections in which routine visits to all units are made once a year to ensure soldiers know how to deal with a non-conventional attack,” he said.The IDF also plans on introducing special vehicles for ABCW decontamination and detection purposes. Another new system that will be introduced will enable soldiers to determine whether a fallen missile contains chemical warfare materials from a long distance.