The CIA strongly believed in the 1980s that Israel had secretly established a chemical-weapons program, Foreign Policy reported on Monday, citing a recently unearthed 1983 intelligence memo.
Though some arms-control specialists have speculated over the years about the likelihood of Israel having developed chemical and biological weapons to complement its widely assumed nuclear arsenal, to date there has not been much concrete evidence to back up that view.
U.S. surveillance satellites in 1982 found evidence of a "probable CW [chemical weapon] nerve agent production facility and a storage facility ... at the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area in the Negev Desert," states the one-page CIA memo, which was discovered attached to a declassified report at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
"Other CW production is believed to exist within a well developed Israeli chemical industry," the memo reportedly reads.
"While we cannot confirm whether the Israelis possess lethal chemical agents, several indicators lead us to believe that they have available to them at least persistent and nonpersistent nerve agents, a mustard agent, and several riot-control agents, marched with suitable delivery systems," the document reportedly says.
The suspected non-persistent agent mentioned is likely sarin, according to Foreign Policy. Sarin is the toxin allegedly used by the Syrian army to kill an estimated 1,400-plus Syrian civilians in an Aug. 21 attack. The United States has threatened to carry out a retaliatory strike on the Bashar Assad regime in order to reinforce the global norm against using chemical weapons.
Israel has signed but not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the production, stockpiling and use of such chemical-warfare materials as blister agent and sarin gas.
The Israeli embassy in Washington did not respond to Foreign Policy's requests for comment.
U.S. intelligence personnel initially learned of Israel's testing of chemical agents around the start of the 1970s, following reports from sources of specialized chemical-weapon testing grounds, according to the CIA document.
If Israel has held onto its suspected chemical arms since the CIA memo was first written, they likely are stored in a strongly fortified weapons-depot facility slightly east of al-Kilab village, not far from Dimona, Foreign Policy concluded after reviewing publicly available images from Google Maps.