On Oct. 4, 1992 a Tel Aviv-bound El Al cargo aircraft crashed into an apartment complex in Bijlmermeer, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Amsterdam a few minutes after takeoff from the nearby Shipol airport. The crash of the Boeing 747-200 killed 39 people on the ground and all four crew members.
The plane’s cargo was the subject of wide speculation for the next six years. The local media suspected something was not right when the crash site was cordoned off and access was limited to non-Dutch search teams in space suit-like protective gear.
At first the rumor was that there were radioactive materials on board, and radioactive traces continued to send Geiger counters off their scales long after the site was cleaned up. The Dutch government accepted the Israeli government’s explanation that radioactive counterweights were present in all early models of the 747s.
After the crash El Al representatives handed over to the Dutch authorities a revised cargo manifest which, sources now admit, included a variety of materials previously not disclosed. For some unexplained reason, the Dutch officials agreed to keep Israel’s secrets.
For years following the crash, however, residents of the surrounding neighborhoods displayed a uniquely high number of unusual ailments. But when they took to the media their inquiries as to whether the plane’s cargo could have contained health hazards, both the residents and the media were brushed off. Even though Dutch authorities knew what was on that plane, they preferred to lie to their own citizens rather than confront Israel.
Finally, on Oct. 1 of this year, the Dutch daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad reported it had obtained documents confirming that when the El Al flight crashed six years ago it had on board 190 liters of dimethyl methyl phosphonate (DMMP), a chemical used to produce Sarin, the nerve gas used to deadly effect by members of a religious cult on the Tokyo subway system.
The following day a spokesman for El Al, the Israeli national airline, confirmed that “the documentation states that DMMP was on the plane, that it was packed in accordance with the international regulations governing uplift of this material, and the document was signed by the captain stating that everything was in order prior to departure. All of these documents were turned over to the Dutch authorities after the accident.” It was further learned that the chemical in question was ordered by the Israeli biological institute in Nes Zionna. Finally, the jig was up.
In an ironic attempt to save face, Israeli Transport Minister Shaul Yahalom ordered the Civil Aviation Authority to reopen its investigation into what the Boeing 747-200 was carrying. Shortly thereafter, Aviv Bushinsky, the spokesman for the office of the Israeli prime minister, stated that the chemical known as DMMP was not used for the manufacturing of nerve gas (which is illegal under all of the international treaties to which Israel is a signatory, but has never ratified), but instead is used in the testing of gas masks.
The Dutch paper said the chemical came from Solkatronic Chemicals Inc., an American company based both in Pennsylvania and at 30 Two Bridges Road, Fairfield, NJ 07004-1530. The newspaper also reported that the amount of DMMP on board the aircraft was enough to produce up to 594 pounds of Sarin, and that three of the four main components needed for Sarin production were on the plane.
Solkatronic vice president John Swanziger told an Israeli newspaper that the chemicals his company sold to the “Israel Institute for Biological Research” were not for testing gas masks and were, in fact, on a special restrictive list, requiring a license from the U.S. Department of Commerce for their sale. The license was provided to the company by the office of Israel’s prime minister prior to shipment.
Swanziger added that after the crash there was a second order which also was filled. The second order, however, was made by an Israeli gas mask manufacturer. He added that Israel was the only country outside the U.S. to which his company had ever sold DMMP, and that at the time he believed that the institute was a civilian rather than a military research facility.
In fact, however, the Israeli government has always regarded the Nes Zionna facility as one of its most closely kept military secrets. Israeli journalist Uzi Mahanimi wrote in the London Times that the plant at Nes Zionna first attracted unwanted scrutiny when the Dutch authorities confirmed that it was the intended destination of the DMMP shipment aboard the El Al plane that crashed. The plant, he wrote, manufactures not only chemical and biological weapons for use in bombs, but more unusual arms as well. It supplied the poison for last year’s assassination attempt by the Mossad, Israel’s equivalent of the CIA, on the life of Khaled Meshal, a Hamas Party leader in Jordan.
Mahanimi also attributed to official military sources a report that Israeli assault aircraft have been equipped to carry chemical and biological weapons manufactured at a top-secret institute near Tel Aviv. Crews of Israel’s F-16 fighters have been trained to mount an active chemical or biological weapon on the aircraft within minutes of receiving the command to attack.
Despite the fact that Israel has accused just about every country it regards as an enemy of developing chemical and biological weapons, it has never acknowledged its own programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Yet a biologist who once held a senior post in Israeli intelligence told Mahanimi, “There is hardly a single known or unknown form of chemical or biological weaponéwhich is not manufactured at the institute.”
The institute, which covers 70 acres and is about to be expanded by as much as 20 percent, was founded in 1952 as a single building hidden in an orange grove. It is surrounded by a six-foot-high concrete wall topped with sensors that reveal the exact location of any intruder. However, the institute is omitted from all local and aerial survey maps.
The institute answers only to the office of the prime minister (as does Mossad), but professionally is under the direction of “REFAEL” (Rashut Pituach Amtsai Lechima). This is the weapons development authority, the umbrella agency for the weapons development in Israel.
Official publications disguise its more sinister activities, stating vaguely that the institute provides services to the defense ministry as well as chemicals for agriculture and research for civilian companies. When elected members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) foreign affairs and defense committee asked to visit the plant, however, they were denied access.
The mayor of Nes Zionna won a temporary injunction freezing the institute’s expansion plans. According to sources, four accidents in the plant have killed at least six workers, but detailed accounts of the accidents have been banned by military censors.
The secrets Israel holds behind the six-foot-high walls surrounding the complex are far darker then anyone can imagine. Professor Marcus Klingberg, who worked in the institute and was jailed some 20 years ago after being convicted of spying for the former Soviet Union, has finally been released, due to his medical condition. Even though it has been more than 20 years since he worked in the institute, his release was under the strictest stipulations. The 80-year-old man is not allowed out of his apartment except for a few hours a day, and he must pay the costs of two guards approved by Israel’s internal security service who are with him around the clock. He is not allowed to use the phone, make contact with the media or talk to anyone except for three approved people, his daughter, his grandson and a friend.
This surveillance is almost as strict as that under which he spent more than 10 years of his imprisonment. He was in a section of the Israeli prison system known as “the Xes.” There the prisoners are known only by a number. Their identities and even the fact that they are imprisoned are considered national secrets.
The fact that none of this detail has been covered in the U.S. mainstream media is testimony to the power of Israel’s U.S. lobby which, it seems, has enabled the Israeli government to get away with anything up to and including murder, over and over again.
So the next time someone shouts, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling,” Americans might well take a minute to look up. You never know what might be coming down.
Former Mossad case officer Victor Ostrovsky is the author of By Way of Deception and The Other Side of Deception, both of which are available on audiotape through the AET Book Club.