THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The Israeli government will seriously consider joining the international treaty banning chemical weapons after Syria said it would destroy its own toxic arsenal, President Shimon Peres said on Monday.
Israel remains one of just six countries in the world not to have joined the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention following Syria’s move this month.
“I am sure our government will consider it seriously,” Peres told reporters in The Hague, the Dutch city that is home to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversees the convention.
As with its nuclear arsenal, Israel has never publicly admitted to having chemical weapons. Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said this month that Israel would be ready to discuss the issue when there was peace in the Middle East.
Peres’ role as head of state is largely ceremonial but he is an influential figure on the world stage and was instrumental in turning Israel into an undeclared nuclear power in the 1960s.
Under a joint Russian-U.S. proposal, Syria has committed to destroying its chemical weapons arsenal within nine months. It is believed to comprise around 1,000 metric tonnes of sarin, mustard and XV nerve agents.
A team of weapons inspectors from the OPCW will head to Syria this week to make an inventory of its chemical stockpiles and munitions to determine how and where to destroy them.
Syria spent decades building up its chemical weapons program, largely to counter Israel’s military superiority in the Middle East.
Peres said Syria only joined the convention when facing the threat of military force, but added that Israel would nevertheless consider a call by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for all countries to sign up to the treaty.
The other nations not to have joined the convention are Myanmar, Egypt, Angola, North Korea and South Sudan.
Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem, editing by Gareth Jones