At Israel’s Secret Biological Weapons Center, A Changing of the Guard

The controversial head of an Israeli defense facility that is almost never talked about — the Israel Institute of Biological Research (IIBR) at Nes Ziona — has retired.

Dr. Avigdor Shafferman was director of IIBR, one of the country’s most secretive security institutes — for 18 years.  He is considered one of the world’s top experts on anthrax, although Israel has never confirmed having weaponized versions of anthrax or any other lethal biological compounds.

His replacement will be Dr. Shmuel (Samuel) Shapira, whose role in the department of anesthesiology at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem may not seem to have much to do with biological weapons. Yet he is also deputy director-general of the hospital and director of a “military medical school” at Hadassah.

Senior officials at Hadassah Medical Center have a role in preparing Israel for coping with possible attacks in the future by enemies using non-conventional weapons.  Dr. Shapira also served in the navy as a lieutenant colonel.

He has been a consultant to the Rand Corporation and to the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[In an earlier blog post here at, we said that the most likely pick for director would be Shafferman’s deputy, Dr. Gadi Frishman.  But the Defense Ministry went in a different direction.]

official logo of the secretive institute (at

IIBR employs approximately 300 scientists and technicians, all of whom sign secrecy agreements.  Located  15 miles south of Tel Aviv, the Institute’s laboratory work is believed to include both biological and chemical weapons — as well as countermeasures that Israel might need to defend itself.  Researchers there developed a vaccine against anthrax, more than a decade ago.

Over the years, IIBR has benefited from grant money from the Pentagon and  the U.S. Army and Navy.

As reported in our book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, IIBR also works closely with the Mossad when the spy agency needs ways of poisoning Israel’s enemies — such as in the failed assassination of the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman, Jordan, in 1996.

Preparing defenses against chemical and biological weapons that might strike Israel has taken on a new importance, because of the civil war in neighboring Syria.  Even before America’s Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declared (on April 25, 2013) that there is evidence that Syrian government forces used poison gas or chemicals against rebels, a senior Israeli military officer had revealed that disturbing fact.

Brig.Gen. Itai Bron, the head of the Research Directorate of Aman — the military intelligence agency — was the first to reveal that Bashar al-Assad’s regime used Sarin gas on several occasions against the rebels.

Dr. Shafferman’s pet project, more than a decade ago, was to develop a vaccine against anthrax. But it turned out that with the collaboration of the army’s Medical Corps, vaccine tests on soldiers were conducted in contrast to the Helsinki Convention’s guidelines for conducting medical tests on human beings.

An inquiry committee, set up a few years ago by the ethics department of the Israel Doctors Association, hinted that the soldiers may have been abused as guinea pigs to serve “foreign interests.” As reported by the French website Intelligence On-Line, IIBR received a grant of $200 million from America — in return for providing the anthrax test results to the U.S. military. That financed a production line at Nes Ziona, where the Institute produces the anthrax vaccine and other medications.  The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz revealed the tests on soldiers.

May 8, 2013

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