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Egypt

Chemical

Last Updated: January, 2015

As one of only a handful of countries to have employed chemical warfare agents on the battlefield since the end of the First World War, Egypt often figures prominently in discussions of the proliferation and possession of chemical weapons (CW). Despite this doubts remain over whether or not Egypt should still be considered as a possessor of chemical weapons, evidence existing to support either contention.

Egypt's direct involvement with offensive CW dates back to the early 1950s. Egypt is generally regarded as having inherited stocks of mustard agent and possibly phosgene abandoned by British forces during their withdrawal from Egypt in 1954. [1] British forces are known to have used chemical weapons in the second battle of Gaza in 1917 [2] and maintained large stockpiles in Egypt during World War Two. [3] In 1983 the CIA alleged that Egypt received chemical weapons training, indoctrination and materiel from the Soviet Union. The CIA also claimed that the Soviet Union supplied Egypt with new chemical agents and munitions in the early to mid-1960s. [4] There is no conclusive open source evidence supporting the claim that the Soviet Union supplied offensive equipment or CW agents to Egypt. However there is ample information showing that Egypt received extensive defensive assistance from a number of countries including the Soviet Union. [5]

Chemical Weapons Table for Egypt

There is strong evidence that Egypt's armed forces employed bombs and artillery shells filled with phosgene and mustard agents in northern Yemen during that country's Civil War 1963-1967). [6] Casualty estimates vary widely; [7] Since the late 1960s Egypt has been accused of expanding its CW capability to include nerve and blood agents. Egypt has also been accused of supplying offensive chemical weapons to Syria in the early 1970s. Although, under President Anwar al-Sadat in the 1970s, Egyptian officials talked about reciprocal retaliation to any attack, Egypt has never publicly maintained a first or second strike military doctrine with regards to CBW agents. [8]

Egypt acceded to the Geneva Protocol on 6 December 1928 but appears to have disregarded its provisions during the intervention in Yemen. [9] In 1990, Egypt and Iran both participated in national trial inspections prior to the Chemical Weapons Conventions (CWC) entry into force. [10] Despite its active involvement in the CWC's negotiation phase Egypt ultimately refused to sign the Convention. Since 1993, Egypt has repeatedly refused to accede to the CWC, indicating that it will not do so until Israel joins the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). [11]

History

It is a generally believed that Egypt initiated its domestic CW program in response to Israel's covert pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. [12]

Egypt was the first Arab state to employ CW agents in the Middle East during its war against the royalist troops of North Yemen (1963-67). Varying explanations for Egypt's use of CW agents in Yemen have been offered. These include the suggestion that CW agents were considered an effective weapon against tribesmen hiding in caves; the expectation that Yemen might be a good testing ground for such weapons; and the possibility that Egyptian forces simply wanted to take advantage of a weapon in their arsenal which their had no protection against.

There is strong consensus that Egypt used phosgene and mustard, but there are also references to the use of a crude organophosphate nerve agent. [13] The Royalist forces, especially the various tribal militias lacked any effective defensive CW equipment or training. Consequently they were extremely vulnerable to the effects of CW.

Casualty estimates vary widely; [14] a conservative assumption is that the mustard and phosgene-filled aerial bombs caused approximately 1,500 fatalities and 1,500 injuries.

Prior to the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Egypt actively pursued scientific research and development for the production and improvement of chemical weapons through a host of institutions. The Central Military Chemical Laboratories of the Egyptian Army researched sulphur and nitrogen mustard blister agents, organophosphorous nerve agents such as sarin and VX-related compounds. [15] Other laboratories conducting related research with Egyptian affiliates included the Egyptian National Research Center, Ain-Shams University, and the Technical University of Budapest, Hungary. During the time frame of the mid-to-late 1970s, Egypt also conducted significant research on psychotomimetic glycolates such as >BZ and EA-3443. [16] In the 1980s, scientists at the National Research Center in Cairo studied organophosphates, including nerve-agent-like pesticides and the effects of seawater on organophosphates, perhaps to study the effects of sea dumping older CW inventories. Egyptian chemists worked closely with their Danish and West German counterparts, and Major General Hussein Ades of the Egyptian Army received training at the University of Columbus in the United States on organophosphate compounds. [17]

Dual-Use Shipment Allegations

In the early 1980s, Egypt allegedly leveraged its relationships to help Iraq with its chemical weapons program. Egypt used a branch of the German company Walter Thosti Boswau (WTB) International to facilitate aid programs and helped Iraq acquire 26 tons of hydrogen fluoride from the United Kingdom in 1986. [18] A few years later, Egypt successfully imported an additional 34 tons of hydrogen fluoride from the United Kingdom, which was allegedly channeled to Iraq. [19]

When writing about dubious shipments to Egypt, the Krebs incident requires a notable mention. In 1989, U.S. and Swiss officials stated that the Swiss company Krebs A.G. delivered parts to Egypt to be installed in a plant "intended to make poison gas" at Abu Za'abal, 25 miles north of Cairo. A Swiss foreign ministry official, however, stated that there is "reason to believe" Egypt has intentions to produce chemical weapons, which might include the nerve agent sarin. The Swiss government did, however, take action after Egypt refused to provide assurances that the plant would be used for civilian purposes, prompting a demand that Krebs sever its relationship with the project. [20] It is not clear if the plant is used for military purposes, but Western allegations claim that it illicitly develops CW agents. Egypt declined to state what chemical(s) would be produced at the plant, though Egypt's current capabilities are thought to include mustard and nerve agents. Mohammed Wahby, Egypt's spokesman in Washington, denied plans to build a chemical weapons plant. "We are not involved in the manufacturing of chemical weapons," he said. The plant is part of a military industrial complex that is also expected to include a joint Egyptian-American plant for M-1 tank assembly. [21] Krebs is a reputed Swiss chemical company that works with a several foreign countries in research that in a host of subjects related to chemical processes. Whether it knowingly assisted Egypt in developing a covert CW capability is speculative.

According to a New York Times report, Krebs had also provided equipment to build a chemical plant for the Egyptian El Nasr Pharmaceutical Company to make phosphorous trichloride, a chemical found in pesticides and the export of which is controlled. Designs for the chemical plant were purchased by Krebs from Stauffer Chemicals, a U.S. enterprise. [22] This particular Krebs incident is somewhat ambiguous. Although credible news sources reported about the shipment and U.S. officials acknowledged the incident, it has never been explicitly stated what exactly was the "equipment" involved. The New York Times is the only source that mentions the El Nasr-Krebs-Stauffer connection, and the information surrounding these allegations appear to be based on intelligence sources that were never made publicly available. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that Krebs—a chemical engineering company—continues to retain ties to foreign enterprises, including several in Egypt. Their cooperation with El Nasr and Abu Za'abal deals primarily with cholorinization-related work. [23] However, it must be noted that this information came directly from Krebs, which may not find it in its best interest to report of any illicit complicity to help build Egypt's CW program. Thus, the case of Krebs' involvement is not as lucid as one would initially think; there are several unknowns and missing pieces of information that make this case an interesting anomaly.

Organization and Doctrine

Egypt's defense industry is largely split between two groups. First, is the National Organization for Military Production (NOMP), which is run by the Ministry for Defense Production. NOMP operates under the Ministry of Military Production, possibly a division of the Ministry for Defense Production. [24] In the early 1980s, the commercial names were changed to indicate general location and goods produced. The NOMP oversees 16 factories that fall under four groups: chemical industries, engineering industries, mining industries, and electronic industries. [25]

Some of Egypt's defense production also falls under the umbrella of the Arab Organization for Industrialization (AOI), based in Cairo. This collaborative entity was formed in 1975 by the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The AOI operates as an independent entity exempt from Egyptian taxes, and its primary mandate was to form a mutual defense collaboration between the governments of the founding countries. Before the AOI could establish itself as a strong player in the defense community, it suffered strong setbacks when Egypt lost the support of several Arab governments for initiating peace talks with Israel. It regained some of its military contacts by the late 1980s but is believed to be primarily run by Egypt. [26]

There is no strategic plan for the use of CW by Egypt in the unclassified realm. Egypt has openly denied the production of any weapon of mass destruction but maintains that it will keep all options open to counter the Israeli threat. In the 1990s, Egypt was a strong proponent of regional arms control initiatives and stated that it would sign the CWC if Israel signed the NPT. Neither country chose to follow this option. From a military perspective, it is unclear whether there is an organizational plan to employ CW. The question that begs to be asked is: Will it be employed in an offensive role or has it been reserved for a defensive strategy? For instance, if allegations that Egypt already had certain CW agents before the Yom Kippur War of 1973, why did it refrain from using them? Some analysts believe that the Egyptians feared a nuclear retaliation from Israel, whereas others maintain that Egyptian CW capability, at the time, was exaggerated. Today, the Egyptian military is believed to be very well trained in chemical defense exercises and has conducted war games in the past that included the threat of CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, and chemical) agents.

There are strong allegations that Egypt has collaborated with other countries such as Iraq and Syria to boost their respective CW programs. As noted previously, there have been several key incidents involving shipments of dual-use chemicals into Egypt from countries such as India and the United Kingdom. Although it was never fully clarified what the intent for these chemicals was, Egypt always maintained that they were imported for legitimate purposes. Being a developing country, Egypt has a significant industrial base that includes factories producing pesticides, dyes, inks, and other materials that employ dual-use chemicals and technologies. Western intelligence reports, nevertheless, assert that Egypt retains a significant CW program that includes blister, blood, nerve and incapacitating agents.

Delivery

Delivery of a chemical agent varies extensively, based on the agent's characteristics and intended use. For a long-range delivery, a missile or a plane are considered optimal whereas mines and other munitions can be used in a more tactical scenario. Egypt does have a missile program and various other delivery systems such as bombs, fighter planes, mines, and other munitions. Israeli reports claim that the Egyptian Army has the capability to fit its missiles with chemical warheads, but there is no clear indication whether it has done so. In the past, during the Yemeni attacks, bombers were the primary delivery method for dispersing aerial bombs filled with chemical agents.

Sources:
[1] Anthony H. Cordesman,"Terrorism and the Threat From Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East: The Problem of Paradigm Shifts," Working Draft, 22 October 1996, www.csis.org.
[2] John D. Grainger, The Battle for Palestine: 1917 (Woodridge: Boydell Press, 2006), p. 39 & 45.
[3] Volume 1: The Rise of CB Weapons: The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiskell, 1971), p. 310.
[4] Implications of Soviet Use of Chemical and Toxin Weapons for US Security Interests, SNIE 11-17-83, Central Intelligence Agency, 15 September 1983, p. 10, www.foia.cia.gov.
[5] Prepared Statement of Amos A. Jordan, Acting Secretary for International Security Affairs, Department of Defense, U.S. Chemical Warfare Policy; Hearings before the Subcommittee on National Security Policy and Scientific Developments of the Committee on Foreign Affairs; House of Representatives, 9 May 1974, p. 151.
[6] For instance, see Rick Atkinson, "Gas, a Symbol of War Horror, Being Sought for the Next Time," Washington Post, 26 November 1983; "This Hellish Poison," New York Times, 14 March 1984; Harvey J. McGeorge, "Chemical Addiction," Defense & Foreign Affairs, April 1989, p. 17. www.fas.org.
[7] W. Seth Carus, "Chemical Weapons in the Middle East," Research Memorandum No. 9, (Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy), 1988, p. 5.
[8] Louise Lief, "Egypt Reviews Its Stance as Mideast Nuclear Arms Swell," Christian Science Monitor, 18 August 1980; Harvey J. McGeorge, "Chemical Addiction," Defense & Foreign Affairs, April 1989, p. 17.
[9] W. Andrew Terrill, "The Chemical Warfare Legacy of the Yemen War," Comparative Strategy, Vol. 10 (2), 1991, p. 109 & 115 passim.
[10] Thomas A. Stock, SIPRI Yearbook 1992: World Armaments and Disarmament, Appendix 6A.
[11] For example, see"Mubarak Regrets Use of Force," Al Ahram Weekly, 14 January 1993; Jeffery Phillips, "The Voice of Experience," Jerusalem Report, 31 October 1991; "Egypt's Westward Move: Why? Why Not South? And Why Is The U.S. So Mad About It?" Mideast Mirror, 30 November 1994.
[12] The initiation of a domestic program of research, development and production is a major proliferation step and quite distinct from the possession of weaponized chemical munitions obtained through gift, purchase or simply inheritance as was the Egyptian case.
[13] "Egypt's Chemical Weapons Program," Federation of American Scientists, www.fas.org.
[14] "Dany Shoham,"The Evolution of Chemical and Biological Weapons in Egypt," ACPR Policy Paper No. 46, www.acpr.org.il, 1998; Volume 1: The Rise of CB Weapons: The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiskell, 1971), p. 160.
[15] Dany Shoham, "Chemical and Biological Weapons in Egypt," The Nonproliferation Review, Spring-Summer 1998, Vol. 5, No. 53, p. 49.
[16] Dany Shoham, "Chemical and Biological Weapons in Egypt," The Nonproliferation Review, Spring-Summer 1998, Vol. 5, No. 53, p. 49.
[17] Dany Shoham, "Chemical and Biological Weapons in Egypt," The Nonproliferation Review, Spring-Summer 1998, Vol. 5, No. 53, p. 50.
[18] Though the author could cite the transfer of 26 tons of hydrogen fluoride from the United Kingdom to Iraq via Egypt, it is not clear whether WTB International was involved in the transaction, as claimed by Dany Shoham's article in The Nonproliferation Review. The company, however, was involved in building underground bunkers for Saddam Hussein in the early 1980s (see Stephen Kinzer, "War in the Gulf Baghdad Refuge; Hussein's Nuclear-Proof, Buried Fortress," New York Times, 23 January 1991).
[19] Richard Norton-Taylor, "Nerve Gas Sale Allowed by FO," The Guardian, 21 September 1983, p. 7.
[20] Egypt Plans Poison-Gas Facility, Paper Says," Associated Press, 10 March 1989.; United Press International, 10 March 1989; Michael R. Gordon and Stephen Engelberg, "Egypt Accused of Big Advance on Poison Gas," New York Times, 10 March 1989; "Egypt Can Build Poison Gas Plant, Paper Reports," Toronto Star, 10 March 1989; Peter Pringle, "Swiss Firm 'Aided Egypt in Gas Plant'," The Independent, 11 March 1989; Redman, Charles, State Department Briefing, Federal Information Systems Corporation, 10 March 1989.
[21] Egypt Plans Poison-Gas Facility, Paper Says," Associated Press, 10 March 1989; United Press International, 10 March 1989; Michael R. Gordon and Stephen Engelberg, "Egypt Accused of Big Advance on Poison Gas," New York Times, 10 March 1989; "Egypt Can Build Poison Gas Plant, Paper Reports," Toronto Star, 10 March 1989; Peter Pringle, "Swiss Firm 'Aided Egypt in Gas Plant'," The Independent, 11 March 1989; Christian Fuerst, "Israel: Aware of the Benefits," Toronto Star, 25 March 1989; "Swiss Poison Gas Gear Reported Bought," Facts on File World News Digest, 31 March 1989; Michael R. Gordon, "Swiss Halt Plans for Plant in Iran," New York Times, 9 May 1989.
[22] Michael R. Gordon and Stephen Engelberg, "Poison Gas Fears Lead U.S. to Plan New Export Curbs," New York Times, 26 March 1989, p. 1; Michael R. Gordon and Stephen Engelberg, "Egypt Accused of Big Advance on Poison Gas," New York Times, 10 March 1989, p.1; "Egypt Plans Poison-Gas Facility, Paper Says," Associated Press, 10 March 1989; Christopher Walker, "Egypt denies claim that it is building poison gas factory," Times of London, 11 March 1989; John M. Goshko, "Egypt Acquiring Elements of Poison Gas Plant; State Department Expresses Concern 'About the Possible Uses of This Equipment'," Washington Post, 11 March 1989, p. A20.
[23] See Krebs website for their customers' list at www.krebs-swiss.com, 4 March 2003.
[24] Christopher F. Foss, "Egypt, Landsystems Sector at Heart of Industry Base," Jane's Defense Weekly, Vol. 34, No. 2, January 2000, p. 25.
[25] Christopher F. Foss, "Egypt, Landsystems Sector at Heart of Industry Base," Jane's Defense Weekly, Vol. 34, No. 2, January 2000, p. 25.
[26] "Arab Organization for Industrialization," The Federation of American Scientists, www.fas.org.

Get the Facts on Egypt
  • Not a member of the BTWC or the CWC
  • Used chemical weapons during the 1960s conflict in North Yemen
  • Maintains two nuclear research reactors

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2017.