NBC Weapons: Iran's Chemical Arsenal




March 24, 2006: Iran's nuclear program has it in the headlines, and for good reason. The country's leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made numerous comments that indicate he might not be entirely rational (such as denying the Holocaust). The thought of someone like that having the most powerful weapons in human history rightfully worries people. What gets less attention, but is also worthy of note are Iran's other WMD programs.

First, a look at Iran's nuclear program is in order. The Iranian nuclear weapons effort is moving forward, with major research centers in Bushehr, Estegahl, Isfahan, Tehran, Karaj, and Saghand. These centers are protected by the Iranians. Three of these centers (Bushehr, Tehran, and Isfahan) are near airbases that have at least one squadron of fighters. The air base at Bushehr hosts two squadrons of F-4s and a detachment of F-14s. Tehran's air base has a squadron of MiG-29 Fulcrums. Isfahan's air base has a squadron of F-14s and a squadron of F-5s. Estegahl is near Bushehr, and can be protected by the two F-4 squadrons there. Karaj, which is roughly 50 kilometers away from Tehran, can easily be protected by the squadron of Fulcrums at Tehran, while Saghand is in Yazd province (the middle of Iran), and any strike aimed there has to get through Iranian defenses.

However, what has been lost in the shuffle is the fact that Iran is already producing chemical and biological weapons. These are weapons of mass destruction - and American policy is very clear: If attacked by chemical or biological weapons, the United States will respond with nuclear weapons. Iran's major chemical weapons production facility is based at Damghan, about 300 kilometers east of Tehran. American intelligence agencies estimate that Iran is producing 1,000 tons of chemical weapons a year, including mustard gas, phosgene, and various cyanide agents. These agents are older technology than the sarin nerve gas used in the 1995 Tokyo subway attack, but they can still kill.

Iran is also working on biological weapons as well. Intelligence agencies suspect Iran is working on smallpox, which officially has been eradicated save for samples being kept in the United States and Russia. Smallpox incubates for about 12 days, is highly contagious, and kills anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of its victims. Survivors are often left blind in at least one eye. Its nastiness is compounded by the fact that the last known case was in 1978, and there are very few, if any, physicians who have experience treating the disease.

Iran's other projects in the biological realm are biotoxins. Unlike biological weapons, they do not rely on having the initial victims infect more people. They are more accurately described as delayed-action chemical weapons. Iran is reportedly working on two types of biotoxins: Mycotoxins (fungi) and ricin. The mycotoxins would likely be used against food supplies - often to cause economic disruption. Ricin, which was used to lace a letter sent to Senator Bill Frist's office in 2004, is intended to kill victims directly - its most famous use being the assassination of Gregory Markov in London in 1978.

Iran's WMD programs are rightly viewed with concern given the theocratic regime's support for terrorists. Earlier this month, improved IEDs en route to insurgents in Iraq were captured at the Iranian border. Iran has also been a sponsor of terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas, PFLC-GC, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. This is a combination that is extremely dangerous, and this suspected combination was enough to topple Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003. Unlike Saddam Hussein's regime, Iran is open about its desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction - and its support for terrorism is also undisputed. - Harold C. Hutchison ( [email protected])




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