Iran Takes Aim at Israel on Chemical Weapons

Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman says Israel should face international pressure to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Adam Ross and Ari Soffer,

UN experts at the site of chemical attack
UN experts at the site of chemical attack

In a press conference responding to Syria's agreement to renounce its chemical weapons, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziah Afkham took the opportunity to direct international attention towards Israel.

Referring to the Chemical Weapons Convention which Syria pledged to sign last week, Afkham said Israel had not signed up and should be forced to do so.

“It is concerning that the Zionist regime [of Israel] … is not a member of any treaty on the prohibition of weapons of mass destruction including the Chemical Weapons Convention,” Afkham said on Sunday. 

She added: “We call on the [UN] Security Council and the international community to adopt serious measures to [make] this [Israeli] regime join the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Last week, Syria officially handed in a request to the United Nations to join the convention which which outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons.

The regime led by President Bashar Al-Assad is widely believed to have used lethal sarin gas in an attack on a Damascus neighborhood on August 21 killing over over a thousand civilians including hundreds of children. 

According to U.S. estimates, the Syrian regime has an arsenal  of 100 tonnes of chemical weapons.

Israel's Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz dismissed pressure on Israel to publish details of Israel's chemical weaponry, telling Army Radio the expected pressure was a smokescreen to deviate international from Syrias obligation to disarm.

Israel signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1982 but has never ratified it, despite American and Russian pressure to do so, leading analysts to suggest that Israel considers itself bound by the spirit of the treaty, but not legally obligated to observe it.

Afkham's remarks come during a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry to Israel, during which the Syrian chemical weapons question has already featured prominently on the agenda.

But although many Israelis will be pleased to see Assad disarmed of his chemical weapons stockpile, many remain skeptical as to the outcome of the Russian-led initiative.

Some commentators have suggested that Kerry could attempt to use the opportunity to pressure Israel to ratify the treaty.

"Kerry may tell Netanyahu the United States is working to remove one of the gravest threats on Israel's security, by combining a credible military threat with creative diplomacy.

"Now, Kerry may say, the US needs Israel's help by ratifying the treaty prohibiting the use of chemical weapons," wrote Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz newspaper. 

But on Sunday, former Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who currently heads the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, insisted that Israel's stance regarding the treaty remained unchanged.

"Only when current Middle East becomes a completely new Middle East will we be able to sign on such a treaty," he explained.

Days after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem pledged to sign the convention intelligence reports indicated Assad had begun scattering his chemical stockpile to around 50 different sites across the country making them harder for the international community to track.

Another unconfirmed report claimed that the regime had begun moving its stockpiles to Iraq, although both the Syrian and Iraqi governments firmly denied the report.

Referring to the Russian-brokered deal on Syria committing President Assad to hand over its chemical weapons arsenal to the international community, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urged for "The complete destruction of all of the chemical weapons stockpiles that the Syrian regime has used against its own people," adding, "The test of results is also incumbent on the efforts of the international community to stop Iran's nuclear armament."

Iran has continued on its path to acquire nuclear weapons capability despite international condemnation and a series of sanctions against the regime.

Regarding Iran, Netanyahu emphasized that "Here too, it is not words but actions that will determine the outcome. In any case, Israel must be prepared and ready to defend itself against every threat, something that is more important today than ever."