|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
19 - 25 November 1998
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
An Israeli 'ethnic' bomb?
According to the Sunday Times, Israel is trying to identify genes carried only by Arabs that could be used to develop a biological weapon that would harm Arabs but not Jews. The newspaper attributed its report to unidentified Israeli military and Western intelligence sources. It said Israeli scientists are working to create a genetically modified bacterium or virus that only attacks people who carry certain genes.
The newspaper said the weapon is seen as Israel's response to the threat of chemical and biological warfare from Iraq and could be spread by air or through the water supply. According to the report, researchers have pinpointed "a characteristic in the genetic profile of certain Arab communities, particularly the Iraqi people."
Officials at Porton Down, Britain's biological defence facility, had agreed such weapons were theoretically possible, the newspaper said.
In Israel, David Bar-Illan, a senior aide to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, rejected the report, saying such stories only proved "that there is no limit to human gullibility and also no limit to the desire to sell newspapers."
Asked if he was denying the report, Bar-Illan told The Associated Press, "This is the kind of story that does not deserve denial."
In Cairo, Ahmed Mostagir, a specialist in genetics, said the production of such a weapon is theoretically possible, but it will not be able to distinguish between Arabs and Oriental Jews.
"This new technology is an offshoot of genetic engineering," Mostagir said. "If the British newspaper's report is correct, this means that Israelis have made extensive studies on Arab and Jewish genes, and reached the conclusion that the Arabs have certain genes which the Jews do not have, and which could be targeted by a genetically-engineered virus."
Mostagir explained that 99.5 per cent of the genes of all the peoples of the world are identical. Genetic differences do not exceed one half per cent. But since many Jews have Arab origins, "they too will be victims of this horrible ethnic bullet," he said.
Mahfouz El-Ansari, board chairman of the Middle East News Agency, commented that Netanyahu "is following in the footsteps of the Nazi masters who drew distinctions between peoples, between those who have below-standard genes and those who have blue blood. The first are condemned to extinction, and the second alone have the right to survive," he wrote.
Maj. Gen. Abdel-Rahman El-Hawwari, a strategy expert, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Israel ranks fourth among the world's nations in the production of biological and chemical weapons. "They are very advanced in this field and have countless facilities, as well as scientists from many different countries," he said.
El-Hawwari noted that while Israel is outspoken about its nuclear arsenal, it prefers to keep silent about the biological and chemical weapons it possesses, fearing that if news leaked out it might fall victim -- like Iraq -- to international pressure.
He also expressed scepticism that a biological weapon capable of distinguishing between possible targets on ethnic grounds could be developed. Like Mostagir, he also pointed out that many Israelis are themselves of Arab origin.
What we do know, El-Hawwari went on, is that Israel is enforcing a new strategy based on "penetration". This includes smuggling drugs into enemy and potential enemy countries and "polluting the enemy's environment with germs that can be planted in soil and irrigation water," he said.
Maj. Gen. [retr'd] Hossam Sweilam, another strategy expert, argued that "instead of running after news stories, we should focus on the real danger, which is a military plan recently approved by the Israeli cabinet, outlining Israel's military programme up till the year 2010." This plan also outlines Israel's potential "future combat zone," extending from Pakistan in the east to Morocco in the west, and from the central Asian republics in the north to South Africa and the southern entrance of the Red Sea in the south, he said.
Sweilam explained that Israel will have to coordinate with Turkey in any future military operations against Syria and Iran, with Ethiopia and Eritrea in the Red Sea, and with India and Sri Lanka in any operations against Pakistan.