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Chemical Weapons Program

Egypt was the first country in the Middle East to obtain chemical weapons training, indoctrination, and matériel. Egyptian interest in chemical weapons may have been prompted by Israel's construction of the Dimona nuclear reactor in 1958. Chemical weapons are part of the Egyptian army's standard issue. While the size of its arsenal is not known, some estimates suggest that it may be similar to that of Iraq prior to the Gulf War.

During the Yemen War of 1963 through 1967, Egypt evidently used mustard bombs in support of South Yemen against royalist troops in North Yemen. Nasser's adventure in Yemen in 1963 on the side of a military coup began when the Egyptian army fought the Saudi Arabian backed royalist Yemeni tribes was the first time the Egyptian Army fights against Arabs since Ibrahim Pasha campaign against the Wahhabbie rebels in Arabia in the 1820's. The use of chemical weapons against the Yemeni tribesmen was the first use of chemical weapons in the Middle East. During the Yemeni civil war phosgene and mustard aerial bombs killed at least 1,400 people. Some reports claim that Egypt also used an organophosphate nerve agent against Yemeni Royalist forces.

Prior to the 1967 war with Israel, the fact that the Egyptian army was equipped with chemical weapons reportedly led to the preparation in Israel of thousands of graves that were designated for victims of gas attacks. It is also reported that on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur war Egypt supplied Syria with chemical weapons.

As of 1990 the Defense Intelligence Agency study "Offensive Chemical Warfare Programs in the Middle East" concluded that Egypt was continuing to conduct research related to chemical agents. For sevarl years prior to the 1991 Gulf War, Egypt was believed to have been working with Iraq on the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons. In September 1993 the London Times reported that Egypt had purchased “large quantities” of chemical weapons precursors from India, including about 90 tons of trimethyl phosphate, which is used in the production of mustard gas.

It is almost certain that the Egyptian chemical weapon stockpile continues to include mustard gas and phosgene, as were used in the 1960s in Yemen, and it is reported that the Egyptians also produce VX nerve gas. These agents are probably available for delivery in munitions such as mines, artillery shells, salvo bombs, rockets, air-to-surface bombs and missile warheads. It has been suggested, with some plausibility, that chemical agent warheads have been developed for the “Condor” missile project, which was abandoned, and for the Scud-C missile, which is operational.

As part of the campaign against the Israeli nuclear weapons program, in 1993 Egypt instituted a policy against signing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which bans the acquisition, development, stockpiling, transfer, retention and use of chemical weapons. Under the terms of the Convention, each State Party is also obligated to destroy chemical weapons it owns or possesses and any chemical weapons production facilities it owns or possesses. The formal negotiations which led to the Chemical Weapons Convention began in the early 1980s and concluded on 3 September 1992 when the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva adopted the text of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction. The CWC will not be global because Iraq, Libya, Syria, North Korea and Egypt have not signed the treaty, while others who have a confirmed or suspected chemical weapons program have signed but may not ratify it. However, in May 2000, the CWC's automatic economic penalties will cut off these countries from the international market in a variety of commercial chemicals that have potential military utility.

Sources and Resources

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