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Should The World Be Concerned About Iran's Chemical Weapons?

File photo - This picture taken on April 20, 2017 shows the entrance of OPCW (The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) in The Hague.

The following commentary is based on a longer research article by the author published by the Heritage Foundation.

The U.S. State Department claims that at least two Iranian military-controlled facilities have researched chemical agents with incapacitating effects, and Iranian research papers cite the potential military uses of Pharmaceutical-Based Agents. PBAs include, among others, the synthetic opioid fentanyl and the more powerful carfentanil.

These powerful opioids could be used to incapacitate or kill those who ingest, inhale, or absorb it through the skin—even in minute dosages, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC).

While PBAs have legitimate purposes in civilian medicine and veterinary science, its use beyond those areas is of great concern—and could violate the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

Using PBAs for military or paramilitary purposes wouldn’t be unprecedented: Russian security services allegedly used a fentanyl variant in its attempt to liberate 800 hostages held by Chechen terrorists at Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater in 2002.

Pumping fentanyl-type gas into the theater to incapacitate the seemingly well-armed terrorists led to the death of some 120 theater-going hostages, apparently from exposure to the powerful opioid.

Chemical weapons, such as PBAs and others, in the hand of the Iranian regime is reason for significant concern. Indeed, Tehran could decide to develop and use PBAs for both internal and external security purposes.

Iran signed and ratified the CWC in 1997. But the U.S. government claims that Iran is in violation of the CWC for several reasons, including that Tehran has an undeclared chemical weapons program.

Specifically, Iran has not disclosed to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—the implementing body of the CWC—its transfer of chemical weapons to Libya in the 1980s, and has not submitted a comprehensive declaration of its chemical weapons facilities nor declared its holdings of riot-control agents (RCAs).

Domestically, Tehran could use CNS-acting agents to deadly effects against those who resist, or demonstrate against, controversial regime policies, although no such cases have been reported before.

Chemical weapons could also be used in Iran’s international adventurism; unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the first time. As is well-known, both Tehran and Damascus have used chemical weapons against adversaries.

Might Iran assist the Syrian regime with using new types of chemicals in the civil war there that has already witnessed Damascus using these horrific weapons against regime opponents?

While of lower probability, Iran could also supply its proxy, the Houthi rebels, with chemical weapons for use against its opposition in Yemen’s civil war. It might also provide PBAs or other chemical weapons to Iran-backed popular mobilization units in Iraq.

Equally concerning are Iran’s ties to terrorism. Indeed, Iran has been on the U.S. State Department’s State Sponsor of Terrorism list since 1984. Today, Washington considers Tehran to be the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism.

Iran’s ties to foreign terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, are well known. The idea of either of these two terror groups possessing Iranian-supplied chemical weapons is tremendously worrisome.

Tehran’s violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty with its secret nuclear program has been established; now Tehran appears to once again be violating an international agreement it agreed to uphold: the CWC.

Considering concerns about Tehran’s threats to international security, the international community must pressure Tehran to comply with the CWC, preventing Iran and or its partners from developing or using chemical weapons at home or abroad.

The opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily the views of Radio Farda

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    Peter Brookes

    Dr. Peter Brookes is a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense and a Senior Research Fellow, Weapons of Mass Destruction and Counter Proliferation at Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy.