Israel Should Show Leadership and Ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention

This week Israel reaffirmed its decision not to ratify the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, even though senior Israeli defense personnel support ratification. Israel is one of only two countries in the world to sign but not ratify the Convention (the other is Myanmar). Now that Syria is party to the Convention, these two countries are joined by only four other states that have neither signed nor ratified: Angola, North Korea, South Sudan, and Egypt. Failure to ratify the Convention represents a major strategic and political mistake and Israeli leaders should reconsider.

The Convection creates the OPCW -- the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- which implements its protocols. Little known no longer, the OPCW received the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize -- a well-deserved recognition of this outstanding and uniquely effective independent arms control agency. OPCW, perhaps more than any other NGO, has made observable and meaningful strides towards global peace by verifying the destruction of over 80 percent of the world's known stockpiles of chemical weapons. The results are real, verified, and substantial.

Rather than reaffirm its lack of cooperation in a treaty that 190 other states have ratified, Israel should issue an invitation to Egypt to ratify jointly the Chemical Weapons Convention and to work with the OPCW (conditional on continued progress in Syria). Verifiably eliminating chemical weapons from Egypt, Syria and Israel would be a public relations coup for Israel. It would get them back in the driver's seat on the Middle East peace agenda and it would contribute to the security and peace of all states in region -- including Israel.

Strategically, the main chemical weapon threat to Israel is Syria (Egyptian stockpiles are believed to be comparatively small and the Iranians -- victims of Iraqi gas attacks in the Iran-Iraq War -- worked with OPCW to eliminate their stocks). Syria, under the auspices of the OPCW, appears to be eliminating this threat -- identifying and destroying both stockpiles and manufacturing capacity. World support represents a critical strategic factor for Israeli security. Absent a Syrian threat, Israel needs to think more broadly about chemical weapons. With one vote Israel could dramatically strengthen Western support and thus gain increased security.

Critics of this idea might be concerned that the elimination of Israeli chemical weapons would create a similar expectation for nuclear weapons, which Israel possesses but does not recognize (and Israel is not a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty). This linkage does not have to be the case. While nuclear and chemical arms are both WMDs, they are many reasons to treat them differently. Critically, unlike the Chemical Weapons Convention that created the OPCW, there is no equivalent organization (let alone a highly-efficient, Noble Prize winning outfit) created by the Non-Proliferation Treaty that verifies the destruction of nuclear weapons (as opposed to attempting to slowing their proliferation). Without an OPCW for nuclear weapons, there is no WMD-elimination slippery slope, and Israeli can reasonably insist that its ratification and implementation of the CWC not link to other issues. If anything, the opposite might be true; by demonstrating good faith in eliminating its chemical weapons stockpile, Israel would put pressure on Iran not to obtain nuclear weapons and to avoid introducing a new WMD into the region.

Israel should demonstrate regional leadership and ratify and implement the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, conditioned on Egyptian adoption and Syrian full compliance. A chemical weapon free Middle East would represent an enormous and critical step towards regional peace and cooperation.