ISRAEL is working on a biological weapon that would harm
Arabs but not Jews, according to Israeli military and western
intelligence sources. The weapon, targeting victims by ethnic
origin, is seen as Israel’s response to Iraq’s threat of chemical
and biological attacks.
Yesterday Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, backed away from
the brink of war and agreed to resume co-operation with the
inspection teams seeking his suspected chemical and biological
the United Nation
secretary-general, said he believed Iraq had met UN requirements. As
Britain and America stood by to bomb Saddam, however, Tony Blair’s
office said compliance must be unconditional.
The White House, which is threatening Iraq with the biggest
onslaught since the Gulf war, said President Bill Clinton’s
advisers were assessing whether Iraq’s offer was adequate. The
Pentagon is ready to bomb within days.
Last week Downing Street warned Labour MPs that Saddam could be only
weeks away from completing the construction of offensive biological
weapons mounted on Scud missiles. Israel was hit by Scuds during the
Gulf war and fears it would be the prime target.
In developing their "ethno-bomb", Israeli scientists
are trying to exploit medical advances by identifying distinctive
genes carried by some Arabs, then create a genetically modified
bacterium or virus.
The intention is to use the ability of viruses and certain bacteria
to alter the DNA inside their host’s living cells. The
scientists are trying to engineer deadly micro-organisms that attack
only those bearing the distinctive genes.
The programme is based at the biological institute in Nes Tziyona,
the main research facility for Israel’s clandestine arsenal of
chemical and biological weapons.
A scientist there said the task was hugely complicated because both
Arabs and Jews are of semitic origin. But he added:
"They have, however,
succeeded in pinpointing a particular characteristic in the
genetic profile of certain Arab communities, particularly the
The disease could be
spread by spraying the organisms into the air or putting them in
The research mirrors biological studies conducted by South African
scientists during the apartheid era and revealed in testimony before
the truth and reconciliation commission.
The idea of a Jewish state conducting such research has already
provoked outrage in some quarters because of parallels with the
genetic experiments of Dr Josef Mengele, the Nazi
scientist at Auschwitz.
Dedi Zucker, a member of knesset, the Israeli parliament,
denounced the research yesterday.
"Morally, based on
our history, and our tradition and our experience, such a weapon
is monstrous and should be denied," he said.
Some experts said that
although the concept of an ethnically targeted weapon was feasible,
the practical aspects of creating one were enormous.
Dr Daan Goosen, head of a South African chemical and
biological warfare plant, said his team was ordered in the 1980s to
develop a "pigmentation weapon" to target only black
people. He said the team discussed spreading a disease in beer,
maize or even vaccinations but never managed to develop one.
However, a confidential Pentagon report warned last year that
biological agents could be genetically engineered to produce new
lethal weapons. William Cohen, the American defense
secretary, revealed that he had received reports of countries
working to create "certain types of pathogens that would be
ethnic-specific". A senior western intelligence source confirmed
last week that Israel was one of the countries Cohen had in mind.
The "ethno-bomb" claims have been given further credence in
Foreign Report, a Jane’s publication that closely monitors
security and defense matters. It reports unnamed South African
sources as saying Israeli scientists have used some of the South
African research in trying to develop an "ethnic bullet"
It also says Israelis discovered aspects of the Arab genetic make-up
by researching on "Jews of Arab origin, especially Iraqis".
The British Medical Association has become so concerned about the
lethal potential of genetically based biological weapons that it has
opened an investigation, which is due to report in January.
Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, who organized the research, said:
"With an ethnically
targeted weapon, you could even hit groups within a population.
The history of warfare, in which many conflicts have an ethnic
factor, shows us how dangerous this could be."
Porton Down, Britain’s
biological defense establishment, said last week that such weapons
were theoretically possible.
"We have reached a
point now where there is an obvious need for an international
convention to control biological weapons," said a spokesman.