Chemical and Biological Weapons in the Middle East

Proliferation Analysis
Raging violence between Israelis and Palestinians has raised fears of a wider war in the region. For background on the possible use of weapons of mass destruction in future conflicts, this analysis summarizes on the chemical and biological weapon capabilities of countries in the Middle East.
Related Media and Tools

Raging violence between Israelis and Palestinians has raised fears of a wider war in the region. For background on the possible use of weapons of mass destruction in future conflicts, we provide summaries on the chemical and biological weapon capabilities of countries in the Middle East adapted from a forthcoming Carnegie study, Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction (June 2002). Next week's analysis will assess regional missile arsenals.

Israel's Chemical and Biological Weapon Capabilities

Israel possesses advanced chemical and biological weapons capabilities, although it is not known what type or how many offensive agents it currently has. Israel is believed to have had sophisticated chemical and biological weapons programs for several decades which are centered at the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) at Ness Ziona, some 10 kilometers south of Tel Aviv. There, Israel reportedly has conducted advanced research on both chemical and biological warfare.

Lacking authoritative information, non-Israeli publications have made many claims about Israel's CBW capabilities, from the trivial to the most sensationalist. The government of Israel, as part of its traditional deliberate ambiguity policy, has neither confirmed nor denied those reports. Acknowledging the difficulties in assessing Israel's CBW programs and capabilities, Avner Cohen recently characterized Israel's capabilities in these fields in the following way: "A near-consensus exists among experts-based on anecdotal evidence and intelligence leaks-that Israel developed, produced, stockpiled, and maybe even deployed chemical weapons at some point in its history." As to biological weapons, however, Cohen appears more cautious and tentative: "It would be logical-given the experience with Iraq-that Israel has acquired expertise in most aspects of weaponization, with the possible exception of testing. Although it is probable that Israel has maintained some sort of production capability, it is highly doubtful that Israel engages in the ongoing production or stockpiling of BW agents."

A 1990 DIA study reported that Israel had an operational chemical warfare testing facility. In an oblique Israeli reference, the authoritative Middle East Military Balance produced by the Jaffe Center notes, "The chemical and biological capabilities of Syria, Iraq and Iran are matched, according to foreign sources, by Israel's possession of a wide range of such weapons." Israel has signed but not yet ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention and is not a party to the Biological Weapons Convention.

Iraq's Chemical and Biological Weapon Capabilities

The absence of UN monitoring since 1998 has aroused concerns that Iraq again may have produced some biological warfare agents. Iraq currently maintains numerous science and medical facilities furnished with dual-use equipment where potential BW-related work could easily take place. According to UN estimates, Iraq possesses the technology and expertise to reconstitute an offensive biological weapons program within a few weeks or months. Iraq's continual refusal to disclose any details about its biological weapons program have lead U.S. officials to conclude that Baghdad maintains an active program, in spite of Iraq's ratification of the BWC in 1991. "The United States strongly suspects that Iraq has taken advantage of three years of no UN inspections to improve all phases of its offensive BW program. The existence of Iraq's program is beyond dispute, in complete contravention of the BWC." In the absence of further monitoring, the current status of the Iraqi chemical weapons program is also unknown. Iraq maintains the expertise to resume chemical agent production within a few weeks or months. However, to attain former levels of production, Iraq would need significant amounts of foreign assistance.

Iran's Chemical and Biological Weapon Capabilities

Although Iran is a member of the Biological Weapons Convention, U.S. intelligence reports claim that Iran currently maintains an offensive biological weapons program. The Iranian program is believed to include active research and development, agent production and weaponization.

In May 1998, after acceding to the Chemical Weapons Convention, Tehran acknowledged past Iranian involvement in chemical weapons development and production. Like the Iranian BW program, the chemical weapons program began in the 1980's during the war with Iraq. Officials claimed that the Iranian CW program was dismantled at the war's end. U.S. threat assessments, however, contend that Iran's chemical weapons program remains intact. It is believed that Iran possesses a stockpile of weaponized blood gases, and blister and pulmonary agents.

Egypt, Syria, Libya and Sudan's Chemical and Biological Weapon Capabilities

There is considerable evidence that Egypt started a biological weapon research program in the early 1960s that produced weaponized agents. In 1996, U.S. officials reported that Egypt had developed biological warfare agents by 1972 and that "there is no evidence to indicate that Egypt has eliminated this capability and it remains likely that the Egyptian capability to conduct biological warfare continues to exist." Currently, Egyptian officials assert that Egypt never developed, produced or stockpiled biological weapons. Syria has a biotechnical infrastructure capable of supporting limited agent development but has not begun a major effort to produce biological agents or to put them into weapons, according to official U.S. assessments. Libya is also believed to have a program, but it has not advanced beyond basic research and development. Sudan is not believed to have a biological weapon program, but U.S. officials have repeatedly warned of Sudanese interest in developing a program.

Egypt was the first country in the Middle East to obtain chemical weapons and the first to use them. It reportedly employed phosgene and mustard gas against Yemeni royalist forces in the mid-1960s. It is believed to still have a research program and has never reported the destruction of any of its chemical agents or weapons. Like Egypt, Syria has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and U.S. officials believe it has a significant stockpile of the nerve agent sarin. A 1990 intelligence assessment reported that Syria had weaponized these chemicals in 500-kilogram aerial bombs and warheads for its Scud-B missiles. Libya once had a substantial chemical weapons stockpile. It produced at least 100 metric tons of blister and nerve agents before it closed its Rabta plant in 1990. It may still have some chemical weapons and is suspected of trying to re-establish its offensive chemical weapon capability and an indigenous production capability for weapons . Sudan is also believed to have an active interest in acquiring the capability to produce chemical agents, but is not believed to have done so yet. Libya is not a member of the CWC; Sudan is.

Additional Resources:

End of document

About the Nuclear Policy Program

The Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program is an internationally acclaimed source of expertise and policy thinking on nuclear industry, nonproliferation, security, and disarmament. Its multinational staff stays at the forefront of nuclear policy issues in the United States, Russia, China, Northeast Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East.


About the Middle East Program

The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, sociopolitical, and strategic interests in the Arab world. Through detailed country studies and the exploration of key crosscutting themes, the Carnegie Middle East Program, in coordination with the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, provides analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region. The program has special expertise in political reform and Islamist participation in pluralistic politics.


In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

Stay in the Know

Enter your email address to receive the latest Carnegie analysis in your inbox!

Personal Information
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20036-2103 Phone: 202 483 7600 Fax: 202 483 1840
Please note...

You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers.