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El Al Crash Exposes Israel's Chemical Weapons Arsenal

October 9, 2002

Israel's huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction—not Iraq's—poses the most serious threat to peace in the Middle East and endangers global health. While the controlled U.S. press remains fixated on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, it ignores the grave danger of the more sophisticated and lethal arsenal of weapons of mass destruction being developed and stored in Israel—with the support of the U.S.
 
Ten years ago, on Oct. 4, 1992, an Israeli cargo jet carrying three of the four components of the nerve gas Sarin, as well as other hazardous materials, crashed into an apartment building in Holland. The known facts of the crash of El Al Flight 1862, the worst air disaster in Dutch history, reveal that Holland's government engaged in a "huge cover-up" and lied to its citizens to help conceal Israel's unlawful chemical weapons arsenal and the international network that supports it.
 
The Israeli cargo plane, a Boeing 747-200F, with three crewmen, one non-paying passenger and 114 tons of freight, left Amsterdam's Schiphol airport at 6:21 p.m. en route to Tel Aviv. Seven minutes later, both starboard engines ripped loose from the wing. The pilot circled back to attempt an emergency landing and crashed into a high-rise apartment complex in Bijlmer, 10 miles east of Schiphol.
 
While only four people died on the plane, the crash of El Al Flight 1862 became the worst air disaster in Dutch history because it killed scores of people on the ground and destroyed the health of thousands of others by exposing them to the toxic chemicals on the plane. The exact number of dead is still not known.
 
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Dutch government officials lied to the public saying the plane was only transporting flowers and perfume. It took six years before the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad revealed the true contents of the crashed plane and their destination. "The cargo documents show that the aircraft carried dimethyl methylphosphonate (DMMP) and two other substances needed to make the deadly nerve gas Sarin. The DMPP was destined for the Israeli Institute for Biological Research (IIBR)," the paper reported in October 1998.
 
Mouin Rabbani, writing in Middle East International, describes the IIBR, located at Nes Zion near Tel Aviv, as "the Israeli military and intelligence community's front organization for the development, testing and production of chemical and biological weapons."
 
I interviewed Pierre Heijboer, a senior editor with the Dutch Volkskrant newspaper, who lives a mile from Bijlmer and was one of the first reporters on the scene. "I was in Biafra and Vietnam, but I never saw anything like that crash. It was like looking into a steel smelter," Heijboer said. "The concrete of the flats was glowing red."
 
Heijboer despises the cover-up: "I just get angry that they lied. It wasn't that the Israelis were flying cargoes of ugly stuff above my head. What angers me is that my government lies to its citizens." Tapes of phone conversations between El Al and Schiphol Air Traffic Control (SATC) reveal collusion to conceal the plane's contents.
 
In one tape, recorded minutes after the crash and hidden in a safe for more than six years, an El Al employee tells an SATC employee: "There is poison on board: ammunition and flammable liquids." The SATC official responded: "We will keep these things under the lid."
 
Dutch authorities sent workers to clean up the contaminated area without the benefit of protective clothing. Even Holland's Queen Beatrix, despite being a long-time Bilderberg participant, was not informed of the danger when she made a visit to the crash site the next day. "For the government and authorities of the Netherlands the safety of its own citizens is less important than the security of El Al military cargo planes," Heijboer said.
 
Heijboer's new exposé on the crash, Doomed Flight, was released Sept. 21, and quickly became a best seller.
 
Heijboer says 30 eyewitnesses saw Israeli agents in white chemical outfits at the crash scene, sifting through the debris and removing critical evidence. A 1998 Dutch police report says officers on the scene recognized the men in white suits who absconded with evidence as Israeli agents. "As they came near, I thought I recognized them. They looked just like the young men from the Israeli security service who regularly practice shooting at our police school," one officer said. "I've often said to people: 'Mossad was there first.'"
 
Another officer said: "We started to unroll a red and white ribbon to seal off the area. The 10 men ignored this and, when I managed to grab one by his arm, he said, 'We're from El Al.' Oh well, must be okay then I thought. They must have been in radio contact with the crew. How else could they have gotten here so fast?"
 
A fireman, Carel Boer, said: "We had to stand aside while people in astronaut-like suits carried away a kind of box. I couldn't see what it was since it was covered with a blanket." The plane's "black box" flight recorder was never recovered, and El Al refused to reveal the cargo manifest.
 
An estimated 3,000 Dutch residents suffer health problems as a result of the chemical and radioactive poisoning that occurred when El Al 1862 crashed. Today there is growing awareness in Holland of Israel's privileged and unregulated use of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to transport dangerous military cargo, a practice that clearly puts the health of the Dutch people at risk.
 
"El Al has its own security force at Schiphol," Heijboer said. "But they don't work for El Al -- they are all from Shin Bet (Israeli secret service) and are paid by the Israeli embassy. The Israelis run the airport like a little Haifa." Dutch Attorney General Vrakking testified on Jan. 29, 1999, that the El Al security detachment at Schiphol was a branch of Mossad.
 
"Schiphol has become a hub for secret weapons transfers," charged Henk van der Belt, an investigator working with the Bijlmer survivors. "Dutch authorities have no jurisdiction over Israeli activities at the airport." A TV Amsterdam (TVA) report identified Schiphol as one of several European airports that allows El Al to transfer cargo without supervision.
 
TVA said Belgian politicians now fear that "a disaster like the crash in Holland in 1992 is possible at [Belgium's] Zaaventem. This airport is, like Schiphol, under control by the secret police of Israel."
 
The Dutch press reported that security officials had been waiving Israeli air cargo through Schiphol, El Al's European hub, since the 1950s. "Of course it continues," Heijboer said. "There are rules, but there is an exception—El Al is allowed to ignore the rules."
 
A Dutch Air Guidance Organization employee told a parliamentary hearing that "policy" since 1973 was to keep quiet about all El Al activities. Schiphol workers testified that customs or the Dutch Flight Safety Board never inspected El Al planes.
 
A parliamentary committee discovered that every Sunday evening a mysterious El Al cargo flight routinely touched down at Schiphol en route from New York to Tel Aviv. These flights did not appear on airport arrival monitors, the cargo was never checked, and the documentation for the flights was processed in a special, unmarked room.
 
Shipping precursors of chemical weapons, such as those aboard 1862, is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which the U.S. is party to. Solkatronic Chemicals of Morrisville, Pa., had sold the DMMP. The chemical is a Schedule 2 precursor for Sarin under the CWC and its export is strictly controlled by the U.S. government. In spite of this, the Department of Commerce repeatedly granted Solkatronic a license to ship DMMP to IIBR. Spokesmen at the Dept. of Commerce were unable to say whether such shipments would continue.
 
I asked the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Hague about Israel's use of Schiphol to transport components for chemical weapons. 
Peter Kaiser, spokesman for OPCW, was not familiar with the details of flight 1862 but said that Israel, as a non-member, which has signed but not ratified the treaty, was obliged to "respect the convention."
 
Israel has never admitted producing chemical or biological weapons and, because it is not a member state of the CWC, is not required to divulge what chemical weapons it has or accept inspectors. However, a member state, such as the United States, is proscribed from providing a non-member state like Israel chemical weapons or precursor chemicals such as DMMP.
 
The Israeli government was finally compelled to admit that the jet had been carrying 190 liters of DMPP, a crucial component of Sarin. Sarin, 20 times as lethal as cyanide, kills by crippling the nervous system and was used in a terror attack on the Tokyo underground system that killed six passengers and injured more than 3,000.
 
In 1992, any revelation that the U.S. was supplying Israel with the components to make chemical weapons was played down, because alleged Iraqi development of chemical weapons has been used for propaganda purposes to justify U.S. aggression against Iraq. Jan Medema, a chemical weapons inspector from the toxic substances division at the Dutch Defense Research Institute in The Hague, said the quantity of Sarin components on the plane was sufficient to generate more than a quarter of a ton of the deadly nerve gas.
 
Heijboer said this was the third known shipment of these chemicals to the IIBR. The fact that the IIBR was the destination of the cargo indicates to Medema that this shipment was to create a large amount of Sarin.
 
"We have been trying to think what possible research purposes you would need this compound in such large quantities for," Medema said. "The likelihood has to be that it was for Sarin. Either they had some special plan for an experiment or they needed a quantity of Sarin for some special purpose. This raises many questions."
 
Uzi Mahnaimi of the Times said that Israeli assault aircraft crews had been trained to fit an "active chemical or biological weapon within minutes of receiving the command to attack. The weapons are manufactured at the Institute for Biological Research in a suburb of Nes Zion."

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