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’s biological threat to UN peacekeepers
Recently, 21 U.N. Disengagement Observer Force peacekeepers from the Philippines were seized in theUNIFIL on the Golan Heights. They were released unharmed in Jordan four days later. Perhaps a more worrying issue is the potential risk to U.N. peacekeepers posed by Hezbollah. As of Jan. 31, the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon comprised 11,026 troops, 338 international civilians and 656 local civilian staff. Thirty-eight countries contributed military personnel to .
UNIFIL could easily be in the crosshairs of a biological or chemical weapon attack. This type of attack is likely to come from Hezbollah, a terrorist military armed and trained mainly in the Sudan on biological and chemical weapon by Iran’s elite Quds forces. Particularly vulnerable are those nations that have not paid for protection from Hezbollah’s intelligence section. Iran has assisted Hezbollah by providing advanced intelligence-gathering technology, such as unmanned , , and human intelligence assets. These can be used not only against Israel but against UNIFIL forces in developing targets for conventional as well as unconventional attacks.
In contrast to the , which maintains a higher , both technical and physical, UNIFIL forces generally have a lower standard of protection, exposing them to greater and differentiated risk. The immunization of UNIFIL forces would be of little use against the agents Hezbollah has at its disposal and serve only to create a false sense of security among those forces vaccinated against agents such as anthrax and smallpox.
The select agents Hezbollah could likely use in a deniable operation and in geographical zones where they would not necessarily need to worry about spread or are the biological agents Cryptosporidium parvum, botulinum and anthrax, and the potent saxitoxin. In terms of deniability, the first three all occur naturally throughout the region. Deploying them, their toxins and spores, especially versions of them modified in either Iranian or Syrian military biological weapon laboratories, would be formidable. UNIFIL forces could suffer higher death rates if genetically modified pathogens, toxins or agents were used against them in a geographic specific attack. Similar to planting an improvised explosive device, it is possible to target troops with certain types of biological weapons which would not spread outside those targeted. Advanced biological weapons specifically from Iran’s complex could make UNIFIL forces sitting ducks.
To give an idea of a possible deniable operation, in 2007 there was intelligence that Hezbollah was planning to infect the of a section of Lebanon with C. parvum, a parasite contracted from contaminated water which causes diarrhea and stomach cramps. While on the surface this may appear to be a relatively low-level attack as it generally does not kill, it does cause for days, and is only treatable with support therapy.
This could put down an entire battalion and severely affect an theater. It could create a window of opportunity either to collect intelligence or engage in operations to prepare the groundwork for a second conventional strike on those forces or for a wider conflict. While UNIFIL forces generally have independent water sources, the parasite passes through all filtration methods and some forces could still be exposed if Hezbollah decided to use it.
There are several scenarios in which biological weapons could be very effectively used against UNIFIL forces.
As the UNDOF peacekeepers scramble to exit the Golan, other pathogenic agents could pose far wider threats to the global community.
Dr. Jill Bellamy van Aalst is an international expert and former consultant to NATO on biological warfare and reduction.