Israeli Responses to the Threat of Chemical Warfare Published in Armed Forces and Society, Vol. 20., No. 1 Fall 1993, pp.85-101

For the six weeks of the 1991 Gulf War, Israel was faced with the possibility of attack from Iraqi chemical weapons. In response, and in contrast to behavior over the previous 44 years, the Israelis took a defensive approach. Israel became the first country since World War II to provide its entire population with gas masks and protection kits. In addition, during the war, Israel operated active defenses, in the form of Patriot missiles.

The defensive response to the Iraqi chemical threat raises a number of questions in regard to military doctrine and the socio- political impacts of this policy. This paper describes and analyzes the perceived threat in Israel; the policy debates posed by the threat of chemical attack and the available responses; the impact of "the policy of restraint" and the absence of retaliation on Israeli military doctrine and decision making; and the interaction between Israel and the United States over this issue. The policies adopted by Israel, an the debates which accompanied them during and after the war, will have significant impacts on Israeli policy and the Middle East for many years.

Israeli Responses to the Threat of Chemical Warfare

For the six weeks of the 1991 Gulf War, Israel was faced with the possibility of attack from Iraqi chemical weapons. During this period, Iraq launched approximately 40 surface-to-surface missiles against Israeli targets, and each warhead was considered to be a potential chemical weapon. In response to the Iraqi capability and Saddam Hussein's threats to use chemical weapons against Israel, and in contrast to all previous behavior over the previous 44 years, the Israelis took a defensive approach. Israel became the first country since World War II to provide the entire population with gas masks and protection kits. These policies, and the debates which accompanied them during and after the war, will have significant impacts on Israeli policy and the Middle East for many years.

The defensive response to the Iraqi chemical threat, combining passive systems, such as protective masks and sealed rooms, and active measures, embodied in the deployment of Patriot ATBMs, raises a number of questions in regard to military doctrine and the socio-political impacts of this policy. What were the psychological effects, both immediate and long-term, posed by the continued fear of chemical attack and the use of gas masks? What was the impact of "the policy of restraint" and the absence of retaliation on Israeli military doctrine and decision making? What alternatives are open to Israel, and what are the costs and benefits of the alternatives?

The Nature Of the Chemical Warfare Threat to Israel

Although chemical agents have been deployed in the Middle East since the early 1960s, these weapons were not used in the 1967 or 1973 Arab-Israeli wars.0 In the 1980s, Syria acquired chemical warheads for aerial bombardment and for its SS-21 and Scud-B missiles. By the end of the decade, Libya also began to produce large quantities of mustard and nerve gas, and acquired Soviet Su-24 long-range bombers.1

During this period, Iraq became the world's largest producer of chemical agents, with annual production estimated at more than 1000 tons.2 Large facilities built with German and Western European technology and materials at Samarra, Falluja, Salman Pak were used for manufacturing and testing these agents. A variety of delivery systems were also developed and produced, including artillery shells, chemical mines, bombs for aircraft, missile warheads, and long-range "super- guns" designed to launch chemical shells from Iraq to Israel.3

Prior to the Gulf War, Iraq was known to be producing mustard gas (HD), and nerve agents (sarin and tabun). There were also unconfirmed reports regarding VX, chlorine gas, and cyanide. These agents can cause severe and permanent injury or death, particularly if the target population is not equipped with protective equipment. They are also difficult to detect, meaning that if the use of chemical agents is suspected, precautions must be taken until the absence of these agents is confirmed.

The Iraqi military employed chemical weapons against Iranian troops beginning in 1983, and Iranian casualties are estimated in the tens of thousands, with reports of deaths ranging from 300 to many thousands.4 However, although Iraq launched hundreds of Scud missiles and carried out air raids against Iranian cities, including Teheran, no chemical warheads were used in any of these attacks. It was not clear whether this was the result of deliberate restraint, or evidence of a temporary absence of the necessary technology. The development of an effective chemical warhead for a ballistic missile is considerably more complex and technically demanding than the production of a conventional warhead or chemical artillery shells.

At the time of the invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi arsenal included some 7000 120-mm missile warheads, 2500 Saqr-30 short-range missile warheads, as well as 535 aerial bombs (335 of them binary-system) and 30 Scud warheads, all loaded with sarin. There were an additional 75 tons of this nerve gas in stock. Over 1000 aerial bombs and 105 155-mm artillery shells contained mustard gas, with an additional 280 tons in stock. In November 1991, UN officials estimated that Iraq had produced 45,000 chemical weapons. In addition, 650 tons of tabun nerve gas and precursors in various forms were declared, and Iraq had an unknown quantity of the nerve agent GF.5

The Iraqi use of chemical weapons was a major turning point in the development of Israeli policy. In the war against Iran, Iraq used mustard gas extensively, particularly against human wave attacks of poorly protected Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Although mortality rates were low, this weapon was seen to have had a major military impact in ending the threat to the Iraqi positions. Nerve gas was also used offensively to dislodge Iranian forces from Iraqi territory. The Iranians were unprepared for percutaneous (skin-penetrating) agents, and these were therefore effective in causing panic and collapse of the defensive positions.

In the case of Israel, the possible military use of Iraqi chemical weapons is limited by the fact that Iraq and Israel do not share a common border, and are separated by a distance of over 600 kilometers. Direct ground clashes therefore were only likely in the event of an Iraqi deployment in Jordan, which could also mean the presence of Iraqi troops along the Jordan river at the border with Israel, and within striking distance of major Israeli bases and cities. Significant numbers of Iraqi troops had taken positions in Jordan in 1948 and 1967, and in the latter case, continued for a number of years. In 1989 and 1990, the extent of the Iraqi presence in Jordan increased again. Joint air and ground exercises took place, Iraqi reconnaissance aircraft flew along the Jordan river to obtain intelligence on Israeli positions and deployments, and joint infantry brigades were planned.

Had this pattern continued, direct military confrontations between Iraqi and Israeli ground forces could have occurred, raising the possibility of the use of chemical weapons. Had Iraqi tanks and infantry been deployed in Jordan, and along the Israeli border, this would have constituted a major increase in the strategic threat. Israeli political and military leaders warned of a rapid and massive response if Iraqi ground forces were to move towards Jordan. It is estimated that a division of troops can go from bases in western Iraq to the Jordan river in less than 60 hours, and another division in the next 24 hours.6

Air and missile-based chemical attacks on Israeli bases and civilian targets would have required large troop movements, and warning time is essentially zero. Israel relies on a system of reserves to provide a surge capacity for its ground forces, and in the 1973 war, the reserve forces were central to the Israeli counterattack against the initially successful Egyptian and Syrian advances. An air- or missile-borne chemical attack against reserve mobilization bases and supply centers could seriously disrupt this central element in the Israeli defense strategy. In addition, if a chemical attack could be used to disable Israeli air bases, the primary arm of the IDF could be crippled, at least until decontamination procedures were completed. In other words, long-range chemical weapons aimed at specifically military targets and bases could conceivably threaten the ability of the Israeli military to insure the survival of the state.

Following the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders threatened to use chemical weapons against Israel. In April 1990, he declared that Iraq had developed a binary form of chemical weapons, and warned that "if Israel dares hit even one piece of steel on any industrial site we will make the fire consume half of Israel".7 His words can be interpreted as an effort to deter Israeli attacks on the Iraqi chemical weapons facilities or Scud missile bases and launchers. Given the recent revelations about the extent of Saddam's nuclear weapons program, it is now possible to interpret these threats as an effort to deter another Israeli preemptive attack on the Iraqi nuclear weapons facilities.

At the same time, the bellicose language, and the history of Saddam's actions, including the attack on Iran, the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and the use of chemical weapons, pointed to potential offensive applications. The Iraqi leader repeatedly threatened to lead the Arab world into a "holy war" to annihilate Israel, and these threats had to be taken seriously. From the Israeli perspective, Saddam's chemical weapons clearly posed a potential offensive threat. Israeli policy makers could not rule out an Iraqi first strike, or the use of chemical weapons against civilians. The legacy of the Holocaust served to heighten the Israeli fears, and contributed to the intensity of concern and the seriousness with which contingency plans were developed.

The Israeli Dilemma: Deterrence or Defense

The Israeli government first began to consider the possible responses to chemical attacks in the mid-1960s, in the wake of the Egyptian use of CW in Yemen. In the 1970s, as Iraq, Syria, and Libya, began to develop a similar capability, the perceived threat to the Israeli civilian population increased.8 Throughout this period, and until the beginning of the 1991 Gulf War, the Israeli government and military debated the effectiveness and implications of the available options.

Historically, Israel has relied on a strategy of deterrence in dealing with a range of military threats, from terrorism and low- intensity warfare, to full scale attacks that endanger national survival.9 Threats of massive retaliation have been used to deter attacks on population centers and "countervalue" targets. Although a national system of shelters, initially designed in response to the threat of conventional weapons, was constructed, these defensive preparations always had a low priority, and were subject to relative neglect and underfunding. At best, critics noted, shelters can only reduce, but cannot eliminate risk. In other words, many Israel analysts saw passive defensive as a psychological measure rather than a serious military response.10

In responding to the threat from Iraqi chemical weapons, Israeli leaders again emphasized deterrence. In March 1988, Chief of Staff Dan Shomron stated "Of course, in 1973, during the Yom Kippur war, the Arab countries possessed gas.... But they never used it, and there is a reason for this. This type of weapon invites [a] very harsh reaction."11 In an interview with the Israeli daily Ha'aretz on June 22, 1988, Defense Minister Rabin threatened that if Iraq used chemical weapons, Israel would retaliate "tenfold". Shortly thereafter, Rabin declared "One of our fears is that the Arab world and its leaders might be deluded to believe that the lack of international reaction to the use of missiles and gases gives them some kind of legitimization to use them. They know they should not be deluded to believe that, because it is a whole different ball game when it comes to us. If they are, God forbid, they should know we will hit them back 100 times harder."12

In this case, however, as in many other such situations, there was no guarantee that the threat of retaliation is understood or given credence. Once chemical weapons have been produced, it is always possible that they will be used offensively. For military planners in any country, the attention is focused on capabilities, and perceived intentions are always considered tentative and subject to change. Thus, Israeli policy makers were forced to consider scenarios in which the Iraqi chemical arsenal would be used against civilian targets.

The uncertainty of deterrence was increased by the appearance of irrationality in Saddam Hussein actions, and an apparent lack of concern for the consequences of his actions or the costs for the Iraqi population. The invasion of Kuwait, the refusal to back down in the face of the American ultimatum, and the bellicose threats to drown his enemies in "rivers of blood" and to "incinerate half of Israel" with chemical weapons, provided additional evidence of this brinkmanship or irrationality. Such a leader might also be prepared to use chemical weapons, regardless of the consequences, or if his regime or own life was already endangered and he had nothing left to lose. As a result, in addition to deterrence, the Israelis took steps to develop a defensive capability, including both passive (gas masks, etc.) and active (ballistic missile defense) systems.

Passive Defense: Gas Masks and Sealed Rooms

Gas masks, protective gear, nerve gas antidotes, and other defense equipment have been available to the Israeli military for decades, and training for possible use of this equipment in a chemical attack is a routine part of military exercises. Preparations for distribution of similar equipment to the civilian population began in the 1970s. In early 1981, Israeli civil defense authorities told journalists that gas masks had been acquired for every citizen. They were being stored in warehouses, and, according to the IDF, could be distributed in 92 hours, if necessary.

In late 1987, civil defense officials took note of the missile attacks against Iraqi and Iranian cities, and publicly warned that the densely populated Tel Aviv area, in which 50% of the Israeli population lives could be a target for Arab attacks. Efforts to predict casualties and effectiveness of equipment, based on simulations and exercises, were highly uncertain, and depended on a variety of factors, including the exact impact point, wind and atmospheric conditions, and post-attack treatment. According to published statements from Israeli officials, a single chemical warhead in Tel Aviv would cause "several thousand casualties",13 but these estimates were later reduced to the level of hundreds of casualties. The debate intensified in April 1990, following Saddam Hussein's threat to use chemical weapons to "make the fire consume half of Israel".14 Civil defense exercises dealing with the chemical threat increased, and discussions regarding the advisability of distributing gas masks were widespread.

This debate reached its peak following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, the deployment of US forces, and Saddam Hussein's threat that any US attack on Iraq would result in an Iraqi missile attack against Israel. In a sense, the Israelis were being used as hostages by the Iraqis, and public demands for the distribution of gas masks increased dramatically. One lawyer petitioned the Supreme Court, requesting the Court to order distribution of the protective kits. The Court declined to become involved. Defense Minister Arens and IDF Chief of Staff General Dan Shomron opposed a change in policy, apparently fearing that such a move was of questionable effectiveness, would cause panic, and, most importantly, would undermine the credibility of the Israeli deterrent.15 Foreign Minister David Levy, responding to perceived public pressure, called for the immediate distribution of gas masks in Cabinet meetings and in public discussions. The pressure continued to increase, and by October, the Cabinet ordered the distribution of the passive defense kits.

This action increased the level of anxiety and fear. In schools, classes were given repeated instruction in the use of the equipment, and in many cases, the children were better prepared than their parents, and showed the parents how to wear and breath through the masks. Civil defense officials provided information on the storage of food and water in case of chemical attack, and large quantities of bottled water and canned preservatives were sold. Each family was told to select a single room in the house, to be used as a sealed room to provide protection against chemical penetration.

In late December and early January, as the prospects of war increased, preparations for responding to a chemical attack were accelerated. All hospitals were placed on alert status, with special medical teams for treating chemical warfare casualties on 24-hour standby duty. Special showers to wash off chemical agents were set up outside the hospitals, and exercises were held. School windows were sealed, and public shelters prepared.

On January 15, the Israeli civil defense authorities ordered each family to place tape across windows and prepare to seal the selected room when the alarms were sounded. The following night, at 2 AM, the war began and Israelis were ordered to open their protective kits, insert the filters, and practice donning the masks and breathing. A number of people reported to hospital emergency rooms with anxiety attacks, heart attacks, and other panic-related symptoms. 24 hours later, on the morning of January 18, the first salvo of Iraq missiles were fired at Israel, the sirens sounded, and the entire population was ordered to enter the sealed rooms, put on the gas masks, and place infants in the plastic tents.

For the six weeks of the war, this procedure was repeated on the 18 separate instances when Iraqi fired Scud missiles at Israel. There were also a few false alarms in the first weeks of the war. Each missile attack was treated as a possible chemical attack, until civil defense teams located and determined the nature of the warheads.

Throughout this period, Israeli took their protective kits with them whenever they ventured outside the house. Couples on dates, and friends meeting for lunch all carried their gas masks, as did government officials and even foreign diplomats and journalists. Although there was an effort to maintain normal activities, with schools closed, missile attack sirens in the middle of the night that required entry into the sealed rooms and the donning of gas-masks, and limited mobility, the effect of the Iraqi chemical threat was to greatly reduce activity of all kinds in Israel.

As a result, economic transactions were greatly reduced, and for much of this period, only essential services operated at normal capacity. Air and sea traffic was disrupted, as only Israel's national air and sea carriers (El Al and Zim) continued to arrive. The flow of imports and exports was greatly slowed, and economic losses were measured in terms of billions of dollars.16 A large percentage of the population of the greater Tel Aviv region, where most of the missiles landed, left, particularly in the night hours, and stayed in hotels or with family and friends in Jerusalem and the Southern city of Eilat. The mayor of Tel Aviv charged that these people were "deserters". During the war, 22% of emergency room admissions resulted from acute psychological reactions. Twice as many patients were admitted for acute anxiety as for injuries directly related to the missile explosions. These admissions increased significantly following each attack or false alarm.17

Active Defense

During the twenty years in which the various responses to the chemical threat to Israel was debated, active defense options were generally given only limited attention. As noted above, Israeli strategy and doctrine have generally been based on preemption and deterrence, and defense, both active and passive, has been considered to be a supplement, at best.18 The acquisition and deployment of active defense systems would have used resources that are generally devoted to strengthening offensive capabilities. Static air defense and anti-missile defense have generally been seen as inflexible and too expensive, in contrast to combat aircraft which can be used both offensively and defensively.19

Throughout the 1970 and 1980s, there were no real anti-tactical ballistic missile (ATBM) options for any country. In 1991, the only possible ATBM system was the advanced Patriot, and even this was essentially a high-altitude air defense system that might have had a limited capability against a slow, low-altitude missile such as the Iraqi Scuds. Many Israeli military analysts also recognized that ATBMs were inherently costly, particularly when compared to the low cost of the Scud, and that the cost-exchange ratio favored the offense. As a result, there was little consideration of missile defense before 1990. The Israeli Ministry of Defense purchased two Patriot missile batteries, and crews were training on these systems in the United States, but these were largely designed for defense against the high-altitude bombers being acquired by the Arab air forces.

However, immediately following the outbreak of the war and the launching of the first Iraqi Scuds, the United States dispatched a number of Patriot missile batteries and crews to Israel. (Patriots were also deployed in Saudi Arabia.) During the war, additional batteries arrived and were deployed in Israel. While there is a debate regarding the performance of the Patriot during the war, it appears that this system was largely ineffective.20 Although some missiles were intercepted, few, if any, warheads were actually destroyed.21 Had the warheads carried chemical weapons, designed to detonate in the atmosphere, it is unlikely that the Patriots would have prevented many casualties. In other words, the Patriots achieved important political and psychological objectives, but did not provide a defense against Iraqi missiles.

The Policy of Restraint and its Implications

The adoption of a defensive strategy by Israel during the Gulf war, or rather, the failure to preempt or respond, resulted from the particular circumstances of the conflict, and of nature of the Israel- US relationship. Prior to the American attack on January 16, it is likely that Israeli decision makers considered a pre-emptive attack on the H-2 and H-3 regions where the Iraqi fixed Scud launchers were located, and on command and control centers in Baghdad. Israeli planes were in the air continuously in the days leading up to January 15. The potential effectiveness of such an attack was unclear, given the uncertainty regarding the locations and numbers of mobile Scud launchers, but some Israeli military planners concluded that combined air-ground operations could have at least destroyed the fixed launchers and support systems.22 The US government requested that Israel refrain from launching such an attack, fearing that this would lead to the withdrawal of Syria and perhaps other Arab states, such as Egypt, from the anti-Iraqi coalition, and greatly complicate relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. An Israeli attack involving the overflight of Jordan may also destablize the shaky regime in Amman. American Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger visited Israel in early January to request restraint, in return for early warning of missile attacks and other forms of assistance. He pledged that the US military would give priority to destroying the Scud launchers and ending the attacks on Israel. Israeli leaders expected that a major attack on Iraq would destroy Saddam's ability to threaten Israel with conventional as well as non-conventional weapons, and this would provide a profound benefit to Israeli security. Any moves that might endanger this were avoided, and under these circumstances, Israeli action was ruled out.

Once the war began, and missiles began hitting Israeli cities, attention shifted to suppression of Iraqi missile attacks, and retaliation. The Israeli policy debate intensified, with increasing political pressure for some military action, particularly as it was becoming clear that the Patriots were ineffective. Air Force Commander Bin-Nun was reported to have argued for a military operation, and after the war, he noted that only 3% of the total allied air sorties against Iraq were allocated to Scud suppression. According to Bin-Nun, the Israeli Air Force could have flown the same number of sorties in five days. He also asked why the US failed to use the 250 Apache helicopters in the area to hunt and destroy the missile launchers.23

Although the Iraqi military capability was being diminished in every day of the war, and this was in Israel's national interest, there was also concern about the long-term impact of passivity in the face of missile attack, and of the apparent reliance on the United States. Analysts predicted that in the Arab and Islamic world, this would be interpreted as weakness and lack of resolve, and an indication that Israel was no longer able to act independently, the could be prevented from responding to attack. Thus, the credibility of the deterrent strategy that Israel developed and used successfully since 1948 would be undermined.

As the missile attacks continued and the fear of a chemical attack intensified in the buildup before the expected ground attack, Eagleburger returned to Israel and reiterated American requests for restraint. The US government again pledged to destroy Iraq's strategic capability and to strengthen Israel's forces. In the last week of the war, Israeli leaders such as Defense Minister Moshe Arens is reported to have raised the possibility of a ground and air attack on Iraq, designed to destroy the Scud missile facilities and to reinforce the credibility of the deterrent. The impact of a strictly passive response to attack was considered to be dangerous in the long term. However, proposals for active Israeli military intervention were vetoed by Prime Minister Shamir, who was concerned about the American response.

Long-Term Policy Impacts

During the war, the combination of deterrence through the threat of massive retaliation and the adoption of passive defenses seemed successful. Iraq did not use chemical weapons, apparently for fear of retaliation, and political leaders concluded that the passive measures which were adopted seemed to be tolerated by the population. Israel gained experience in preparations for chemical attack against civilians, and learned that for at least six weeks, the public will accept emergency procedures for dealing with such an attack. On this basis, members of the IDF Medical Corps concluded that the dangers of chemical attack can be significantly reduced by providing "collective and individual protective measures", training the population in the use of these measures, and early warning.24 Medical and rescue teams, CW detection units, decontamination teams, and hospital staff received extensive training, and changes were instituted on the basis of extensive drills and simulations.

At the same time, the threat of chemical war, and the series of missile attacks, each of which could potentially have carried chemical warheads, had a profound effect on Israeli political, psychological, and social structures and attitudes. A member of the IDF medical staff has noted, "There is no doubt that the Gulf War and the missile attacks caused extensive long-term stress in large segments of the Israeli population. ... There were a variety of somatic complaints, disquiet, difficulty in sleeping, and various symptoms of anxiety...".25

The period immediately before the war, and the war itself, with the constant threat of chemical attacks, had a major psychological impact. It is important to note that the threat of chemical war was magnified greatly by the memories of the Holocaust and the murder of over 6 million Jews in the Nazi gas chambers. The sustained effect of the fear of gas attacks, the showers outside of hospitals to wash off chemical agents, and the entire set of images, on the Jewish population of Israel cannot be underestimated. Although there were few outward signs of panic, Israelis expressed their fears and deep anger at Iraq, its supporters in the Arab and Islamic world, and those countries, particularly in Europe, who had sold equipment and materials to the Iraqis.

Following the war, passive defenses were strengthened and a Civil Defense Command was established. Housing codes were revised to mandate the construction of an inner "sealed room" to be used in case of chemical attack, and in November 1991, the government announced a program to build large sealed rooms in schools to provide protection against chemical attack. After a Government Controller report questioned the efficacy of the gas masks and protective kits, steps were taken to improve these and in late 1992, national distribution of new kits began.26

At the same time, the trauma which remains from the war will make it difficult for any Israeli government to again order the population to carry and wear gas masks and other protective equipment, and to enter sealed rooms for an extended period of time. Although the Israeli population demonstrated a high degree of discipline during the missile attacks, following the war, as noted above, many argued that, in retrospect, the failure to respond might have been in error. Damage to the Iraqi military was much less than had been expected, and even at half of its initial force levels, represents a formidable threat. In the two years after the war, the periodic standoffs between the US and Iraq, and the renewed conflict in January 1993, created significant concern in Israel.27 The American government's military and political commitments to Israel during the war evaporated quickly. In September 1991, President Bush asserted that Israelis were ungrateful after American troops had risked their lives to protect them. Israeli reacted angrily, and many noted that the expectations that cooperation with the United States during the war would bring political benefits was naive.

The absence of a military response to the chemical threat and missile attacks was and continues to be very controversial. The basic "raison d'etre" of Israel is protect the Jewish people from the pogroms and mass murder of the diaspora. In newspaper articles and radio discussions, many Israelis, including prominent intellectuals and those associated with the political left, expressed anger at the absence of a military response. Although polls showed a majority which supported Shamir's policy of restraint during the war, this was a unique event and repetition of the policy of restraint in the future would be difficult for any government.28

In August 1992, a few months after Yitzchak Rabin became Prime Minister, Israeli fears of renewed Iraqi attacks increased again in the wake of clashes over UN inspectors and the imposition of the "no fly zone" in southern Iraq. In response, Rabin emphasized deterrence, declaring that if Iraq uses missiles or chemical weapons, "Israel has a broad choice of responses." He declined to name the options, and stated that "there is no reason to go into detail in public." Noting the impact of the Gulf War, he declared that "We will not accept a situation in which the Jewish state will traumatized by the use of gas against her".29 To insure that the message was clearly understood, Rabin repeated it in a high-profile address to military officers, portions of which were broadcast on Israeli radio and television.

Active Defense Reconsidered

Although the experience with the Patriot system was not encouraging, and the lack of enthusiasm for missile defense continues, the Israeli government is supporting the development of the Arrow anti- tactical ballistic missile program. The Arrow is still in the early stages of research and development, however, and much of the funding is provided by the United States as part of the Strategic Defense Initiative. In contrast to the Patriot, which intercepts its targets within the atmosphere very close to the aim point, the Arrow is designed to destroy its targets at a much higher altitude, and at distances of 70-80 km.30 Missiles and warheads which are intercepted at this range are rendered ineffective.

Israeli analysts and policy makers are aware of the high cost of this weapon, and the unfavorable cost-exchange ratio. The cost of each Arrow missile is likely to be much greater than the cost of offensive missiles such as the Scud. The arguments against investing heavily in active defense remain, and if the Arrow or some other ballistic missile defense system is ultimately deployed, it will serve as a supplement to a strategy based on deterrence, preemption, and offensive interdiction.

Dealing with The CW Threat from Syria

Despite the peace talks, the possibility of war with Syria continues, and the Assad regime is still committed to achieving strategic parity with Israel, which will enable it to take on the IDF without the assistance of other Arab states.31 Confrontation continues in the Golan Heights, and although Damascus has acted prudently, concern about growing Syrian military capability continues. Syrian control in Lebanon has been extended and consolidated, and while tacit coordination has prevented accidental clashes and escalation, the prospects of war are still significant.

Syria possesses both surface-to-surface missiles and chemical warheads, and during the period of reduced Iraqi military capability following the Gulf War, the perceived threat from Syria is increasing again. In the 1980s, Syria acquired Soviet SS-21 missiles, and although very accurate (250 meter CEP), the range was limited to 120 kilometers, putting targets in the central and southern parts of Israel out of range. However, in 1992, Syria purchased and tested Scud-C missiles from North Korea, with a range of 600 kilometers, putting all of Israel in range. The CW capability of the Syrian Air Force has also increased with the continued acquisition of Mig-29 combat aircraft and Su-24 bombers. Israeli analysts note that Syrian perceptions of Israel's extreme sensitivity to casualties could encourage use of chemical weapons against civil targets in the effort to end a war quickly and on terms favorable to Damascus.32

There are a number of important factors which distinguish the Syrian chemical threat from that posed by Iraq. In the first place, Syria and Israel share a border, and the proximity makes it easier for Syrian aircraft to penetrate Israeli airspace than was the case with Iraq. The Iraqi missiles were too inaccurate to target in a counter- force mode against Israeli military bases and staging areas, but Syria could use its air force for a first-strike with chemical weapons. This could interfere with the mobilization of Israeli reserve forces, and also reduce air activity.

At the same time, the proximity of Syrian targets makes Israeli offensive activity against CW storage areas and missile launchers, and retaliation against Damascus, much easier. While any Israeli military activity in Iraq would require passage over or through Jordan, there is no such buffer zone with respect to Syria. It is also easier for Israel to obtain intelligence information on missile launchers and related activities than in the case of Iraq, although with the acquisition of longer-range Scud-C missiles, potential launch sites now include northern Syria.

The threat of a war with Syria involving chemical weapons seems remote, but Israeli planners must consider Syrian capabilities, particularly in the area of chemical weapons, as well as those of Iran and Libya. Since the 1991 Gulf War and Iraqi missile attacks, Israeli policy makers have reemphasized deterrence based on the threat of massive retaliation. When Syria tested Scud-C missiles, Deputy Defense Minister and former Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur stated that "Syria must take into account that as soon as they launch a missile against us, we can move to Damascus."33 In his August 28 1992 interview in Ha'aretz, Rabin declared that with respect to threats from Syria, Iran, and Iraq, "If Israeli population centers are attacked with non-conventional weapons, Israeli will respond massively against the population centers of the attacking country." He also noted that Israel is "developing the capability to hit population centers of more distant countries".34

Concluding Observations

In the period since the end of World War II, Israel became the first, and to date, the only country to develop and implement measures to protect its civilian population against a full-scale chemical attack. Although preparations began in the early 1970s, the immediate threat from Iraq and Syria beginning in the mid-1980s, and culminating in the period following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, led to the large scale distribution of gas masks and protective equipment. The military and civil defense systems have established and used procedures for distributing this equipment to a large civilian population, and for instructing this population on the proper use of gas masks. The Israeli population has now had the experience of carrying and wearing a gas mask, preparing and sitting in sealed rooms during possible chemical attacks, and living under the threat of such an attack.

The long-term psychological and political impacts of the these experiences are difficult to measure, but these are likely to be significant. The associations of chemical warfare with the Holocaust amplified the impact for the Jewish population. The war had a major effect on Israel, and it would be a mistake to underestimate or belittle this impact.

The policy of restraint and the absence of offensive action or retaliation, which was debated but generally accepted during the war, did not provide the payoffs which had been expected. Israeli passivity in the face of missile attack and the threat of chemical weapons is now generally described as a unique response to a unique situation, but one which is unlikely to be repeated. Although Israel will continue to develop defensive measures in the face of chemical threats, it will be very difficult for any Israeli government to order the population to accept another lengthy period of missile attacks on cities in which each missile is assumed to carry chemical weapons. It is likely that passive protection will become, at best, a secondary response designed to provide defense against residual chemical weapons. In the absence of a realistic active defense option against ballistic missiles, other strategies will be sought. Both militarily and politically, the Israeli experience in the war point to a reemphasis on preventive and preemptive strikes and deterrence based on the threat of massive retaliation.


0- Shai Feldman, "Middle East Missile and CBW Proliferation: Patterns, Trends, Ramifications," in The Middle East Military Balance: 1989-90, ed. Joseph Alpher, (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990), 37-38, and Micha Bar, "Strategic Lessons of Chemical War," IDF Journal 20 (Summer 1990), 49.

1- Jean Pascal Zanders, Chemical Weapons Proliferation: Mechanisms Behind the Imhausen/Rabta Affair (Brussels: Vredesonderzoek Interdisciplinaire Periodiek, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, 1990), 31- 32.

2- W. Seth Carus, "Chemical Warfare and the Persian Gulf Crisis," September 10, 1990, in Gulfwatch Anthology, ed. Barry Rubin, Marvin Feuerwerger, John P. Hannah, and Martin Indyk, (Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1991), 9; for a detailed history of the Iraqi chemical weapons program, see Zanders, Chemical Weapons Proliferation.

3- Eisenstadt lists munitions including 152mm, 130mm and 122mm artillery rounds, 12mm rockets, 90mm air-to-ground rockets, 81mm mortar rounds, and 45 kg bombs, as well as Frog-7 and Scud-B missile warheads. Mike Eisenstadt, "The Sword of the Arabs:" Iraq's Strategic Weapons, Policy Paper 21 (Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1990), 7.

4- Carus, "Chemical Warfare" 9, Eisenstadt, Sword of the Arabs, 6

5- The United Nations Special Commission for the Disarmament of Iraq: Structure and Duties, Appendix B: Iraqi Declaration of Proscribed Materials and Appendix C: Assessment of Iraqi Data Declaration. The United Nations, 1991. UN inspectors noted that Iraq declared CW weapons stored at the Samarra complex and at six airfields, but did not include ground-force bases or storage areas. It is also assumed that Iraq has, or has the ability to produce many more CW warheads for its Scud missiles.

6- Arye Shalev, Kav Haganah Beyuhuda V'Shomron (The Defense Line in Judea and Samaria) (Tel Aviv: HaKibbutz Hameuchad and Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, 1983).

7- Baghdad Radio and Iraqi News Agency as cited in FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, April 3 1990, pp.32-36.

8- See Uri Bialer, "Thinking the Unthinkable: The Possibilities and Implications of Strategic Bombing Against Israel in the Next War", Journal of the Royal United Services Institute for Defense Studies, (London, U.K.) 122 (1977) pp.65-71

9- See, for example, Jonathan Shimshoni, Israel and Conventional Deterrence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988).

10- See, for example, Zvi Lanier and Zur Shapira, "Analysis of Decisions Concerning the Defense in Rear Areas in Israel: A Case Study in Defense Decision Making", in Israeli Security Planning in the 1980s, ed. Zvi Lanier (New York: Praeger, 1983).

11- Israeli Army Radio, translated in FBIS-NEA March 10, 1988, p.37, cited by Eisenstadt, Sword of the Arabs, 54.

12- Rabin in FBIS-NEA July 21, 1988, pp.28-9, cited by Eisenstadt, Sword of the Arabs, 54

13- Cited by Eisenstadt, Sword of the Arabs, 53.

14- Al Hamishmar, (Israeli daily newspaper published in Tel Aviv) August 15, 1990

15- Ha'aretz, ((Israeli daily newspaper published in Tel Aviv) 21 October 1991, 1 and 3.

16- Economic losses during this period are estimated to have been at least $3 billion dollars. See Yaacov Lifshitz, "The Israeli Economy and the Gulf Crisis", in War in the Gulf, ed. Joseph Alpher (Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, 1992) 356-381.

17- E. Karsenty, J. Shemer, I. Alshech, B. Cojocaru, M. Moscovitz, Y. Shapiro, and Y.L. Danon, "Medical Aspects of the Iraqi Missile Attacks on Israel," Israel Journal of Medical Science, 27, (1991) 603-607.

18- See, for example, Major-General Israel Tal, "The Offensive and Defensive in Israel's Campaigns," Ma'arachot (periodical published by the Israel Defense Forces), February-March 1988. An English version was published in The Jerusalem Quarterly, 51 (Summer 1989) 41-47. In contrast, Ariel Levite called for "more balanced strategy" in Offense and Defense in Israeli Military Doctrine (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990).

19- The first Israeli purchase of a ground-based air defense system took place in 1962, when the IDF acquired the Hawk surface-to-air missile from the United States. The Hawk was purchased for the specific purpose of defending the Dimona nuclear reactor complex against aerial attack, and because these weapons established a precedent for the purchase of weapons and military technology from the US, and the Hawk sale was a "foot in the door". This deployment of the Hawk was the subject of debate within the IDF, because of the inherent conflict with the dominant doctrine which rejected a defensive approach.

20- Theodore Postol, "Lessons of the Gulf War Experience with Patriot," International Security, 16, 3, (Winter 1991/2); Martin Navias, Saddam's Scud War and Ballistic Missile Proliferation, London Defence Studies 1990-91, 6, (Centre for Defence Studies, University of London, 1991).

21- Reuven Pedazur, Ha'aretz, October 24, 1991.

22- See comments by Gen. Avihu Bin-Nun, who was the commander of the Israeli Air Force during the war, in Ha'aretz 24 October, 1991.

23- Ha'aretz, June 19, 1992.

24- Joshua Shemer and Yehuda L. Danon, "Eighty Years of the Threat and Use of Chemical Warfare: The Medical-Organizational Challenge," Israeli Journal of Medical Sciences, 1991, 27, 608-612.

25- A. Bleich, S. Kron, C. Margalit, G. Inbar, Z. Kaplan, S. Cooper, and Z. Solomon, "Israeli Psychological Casualties of the Persian Gulf War: Characteristics Therapy, and Selected Issues", Israel Journal of Medical Sciences, 27 (1991), 673.

26- Israel Government Controller, Annual Report #41 for 1990, Special Volume on Protective Systems for the Civilian Population, (Jerusalem: 1991); See also Ha'aretz, 24 November 1991.

27- See, for example, the commentaries in the Israeli dailies, Ha'aretz, Yediot Ahronot, and Ma'ariv, during the weeks of August 20 1992 and January 20 1993, when it appeared that a renewal of the conflict might result in more Iraqi Scud attacks on Israel.

28- Support for the government's policy was reflected in poll data, as published by Gad Barzilai and Efraim Inbar, "Do Wars Have an Impact: Israeli Public Opinion After the Gulf War", Jerusalem Journal ofInternational Relations, 14 (March 1992), 48-64. There was, however, significant opposition during the war, as reflected by Dan Meron, "If there is an IDF - let it appear immediately", Ha'aretz, 14 February 1991. Criticism increased significantly following President Bush's assertion that Israelis were ungrateful for American protection during the war. See "Israeli Calls Bush an Anti-Semite" International Herald Tribune 16 September 1991, and Ma'ariv 20 September 1991.

29- Rabin, interview in Ha'aretz August 28, 1992

30- See Marvin Feuerwerger, The Arrow Next Time? Israel's Missile Defense Program for the 1990s, Policy Paper 28, (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1991)

31- Dov Tamari, "The Syrian-Israeli Balance of Forces and Strategic Parity," in The Middle East Military Balance: 1989-90, ed. Joseph Alpher, (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990); and Michael Eisenstadt, "Arming for Peace? Syria's Elusive Quest for 'Strategic Parity," Policy Paper No. 31, (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1992), 37.

32- Tamari, "Syrian-Israeli Balance," 97.

33- Jerusalem Post, 14 August 1992

34- Ha'aretz 28 August 1992