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The Nazi contribution to the Assad regime

We are uploading the news to the home page again following the news about 1,300 dead on August 21 in a chemical attack in Damascus. And again, after the Organization for the Prevention of the Proliferation of Chemical Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize

The molecule of sarin gas. From Wikipedia
The molecule of sarin gas. From Wikipedia

Following the reports from Syria: all about sarin and other chemical weapons

In the afternoon of Thursday, April 22.4.1915, 6,000, a grayish-greenish cloud clouded over the positions of the German army near the city of Ypres in Belgium. Soon the wind carried the clouds of chlorine gas towards the trenches of the French army. The damage was terrible. The chlorine atoms react with water to form toxic acids, and when this happens in the tissues of the body, for example in the lungs or eyes, the acids make names in these tissues. It is estimated that XNUMX French soldiers were killed in the first ten minutes of exposure to the gas. Many others suffered from severe breathing difficulties or impaired vision.

Ancient history

The Battle of Ypres is now considered a milestone in the military use of chemical weapons, but it was not the first time such a weapon was used. In several previous battles, attempts were made by both sides to use tear gas or poisonous gases, in most of them the concentration of the gas was too small, and the attacked army barely felt the attack. Three months before the battle of Ypres, the German army fired 18,000 tear gas shells at the Russian forces in the Bolimov area west of Warsaw. However - the cold weather saved the Russians, and the gas condensed into a liquid without causing damage. Although chemical weapons were used on a large scale for the first time in the First World War, even then they were not a new means of warfare. Ancient writings and archaeological finds testify to the use of toxic substances - from anointing arrows with animal venom or plant poisons, to burning substances such as sulfur or arsenic to create toxic smoke during the siege of cities or fortresses. Such uses of chemicals were made almost everywhere in the ancient world, from China and Mongolia, through Greece to America. Even in the last centuries there is quite a bit of evidence of the use of chemical weapons - Leonardo da Vinci suggested the use of sulfur powder and arsenic, and in other places different types of poisonous gases were used. Even in the American Civil War there was a plan to use shells containing chlorine, but it was not realized in the end.

Decisions on paper

Against the background of the historical development of the field, it is clear that the widespread use of chemical weapons in the First World War was quite predictable. 15 years before the start of the war, in 1899, the first convention regarding the laws of war was signed in The Hague, and already in it there is a statement regarding the prohibition of the use of projectiles containing gas whose purpose is to cause suffocation or hallucinations (it appears, by the way, immediately after the statement prohibiting the shooting and dropping of explosives from balloons) . The Treaty of Versailles signed after the war also prohibited the use of chemical weapons, which did not prevent several countries from doing so. Japan, for example, used large quantities of mustard gas and suffocating gases in its attacks on China. In the mid-30s, a new player entered the picture - nerve gas.

Not just insects

From 1934, a group of scientists at the German chemical corporation Farben IG worked on developing new pesticides for agriculture. The researchers, led by Dr. Gerhard Schrader, were mainly looking for substances that would harm harmful insects, but would not cause any damage to the plant. In 1936, the efforts bore fruit - the researchers discovered an organic phosphorus-based substance with the desired effect, and began procedures for the widespread production of the substance, called Tabun. However, it soon became clear that the substance affects not only insects, but also humans - in January 1937, a drop of the substance was splashed on one of the laboratory tables. Shrader and some of his men felt short of breath and dizzy, and it took them several weeks to regain their strength. Two years earlier, the Nazi government in Berlin had issued an order instructing them to hand over any invention that might have uses on the battlefield. True to his homeland, Schrader sent a sample of the material to Berlin. The experts there immediately insisted on the military importance of the material. Schroeder and his research group were escorted to a secret factory in the Ruhr Valley, and in 1938 they developed a material even more effective than Tabone. The new gas was named Sarin, after its four developers (Schrader, Ambrose, Rüdiger, van der Linde). The factory produced large quantities of the poisonous gases, but the process was lengthy, and apparently Nazi Germany did not have time to make real use of the nerve gases before the war ended. According to estimates, when Germany already had enough nerve gas, Berlin feared that if it used this weapon, the USA, the USSR and the UK would attack it with even more modern chemical weapons, against which the German army had no protection. With this, the Nazi industry did not neglect development, and in the following years two more types of nerve gas were developed, Soman and Cyclosarin.

It should be noted that the difficulties in the widespread production of nerve gas did not prevent the Nazi regime from producing large quantities of another gas, Zyklon B, and using it to murder millions of Jews in extermination camps. Unlike the nerve gases, which are based on organic phosphorus, Cyclone was a compound of cyanide - a substance that prevents the respiratory processes in the cell because it paralyzes the decomposition process of oxygen molecules - and soon causes death. This gas was also first developed as a pesticide, and one of the factories that contributed raw materials to its production was the same Iga Farben corporation that we mentioned earlier. The production itself was managed by the "Testa" company and after World War II, two of its managers were executed, after being convicted in a British court of mass murder.

V marks

The development of nerve gases as a means of warfare was not stopped after the Second World War, but continued in March, mainly in the USA and the USSR. The first four gases are called "series G" (after their country of origin Germany - Germany). Later, a new series of nerve gases known as the V series was developed (there are several versions of using the letter V, my favorite is the word Viscous), the most famous of which is the gas known as VX. The gasses of the V series have a similar mechanism of action to their predecessors, but unlike those of the G series, which dissolve easily in water, the new gases have a high residue, do not break down easily and are much more difficult to get rid of - even on the battlefield.

between nerve and muscle

As mentioned, all nerve gases have a similar mechanism of action - they disrupt the transmission of information between the nervous system and the muscles. As we know, the transmission of information in the nerves is done through electrical signals. At the point of meeting with the muscle, the transmission of information goes to a chemical method. At the end of the nerve fiber there are vesicles of a substance called acetylcholine, the electrical signal causes the release of the substance into the space between the nerve cell and the muscle cell (or between two nerve cells in the brain), known as a synapse. At the other end of the synapse, the acetylcholine binds to appropriate receptors, and the binding causes the muscle to contract, that is, to activate it. As soon as the acetylcholine is released from the nerve cell, another substance, acetylcholine esterase (AChE for short), comes into action, which breaks down the acetylcholine. The rapid disintegration ensures a short response of the muscle and prevents the danger of paralysis of the muscle due to prolonged action, and also "cleanses" the synapse to quickly prepare it to receive the next nerve signal. The nerve gas molecules bind to acetylcholinesterase, inhibiting its activity and preventing it from breaking down acetylcholine. Because of this, the nerve command to activate the muscle does not stop and the body cannot relax the muscles. This manifests itself in paralysis of the chest muscles that activate the lungs (difficulty in breathing), and damage to the heart muscle. Other signs of nerve gas poisoning are tremors and convulsions, as well as loss of control over sphincters - all due to muscle paralysis. Severe injury from the gas usually causes death within a few minutes, mainly from cessation of breathing or cardiac arrest. The effective treatment for nerve gas victims is atropine. The atropine molecule attaches very effectively to the receptors in the synapse, preventing acetylcholine from binding to them and activating the muscle.

Mustard and tears

Nerve gas is undoubtedly the deadliest chemical weapon, but it is of course not the only one. It is customary to distinguish between a respiratory chemical warfare agent, such as nerve gas or chlorine gas, and a chemical warfare agent that causes burns, and the best known of this group is mustard gas. In fact, it is a compound of chlorine and sulfur, which gives the substance a yellowish tint, hence the resemblance to mustard. These compounds cause very severe irritation of the skin, the eyes and the mucous tissues - such as the oral cavity and the respiratory tract. The substance is a very strong base and it corrodes the tissues of the body and causes the formation of large blisters. In addition to the intense pain, the burns expose the skin to severe infections, and in the respiratory tract they can cause suffocation. It also turned out that the mustard gas binds after the bases in DNA (guanine), a process that causes the death of the cell, or cancerous processes. The most sensitive cells to damage are cells that are in rapid division processes, such as the cancer cells themselves. This is how it turned out that a certain type of mustard gas (nitrogen-based) can actually help cure cancer, because it results in the rapid killing of the cells multiplying in the tumor. Such substances are still sometimes used in chemotherapy treatments for various types of cancer.

The third group of chemical warfare agents are irritant gases, such as tear gas, which causes transient burns in the eyes and respiratory tract, or substances that cause nausea through a bad smell. These are considered non-lethal substances, and are only intended to neutralize humans for a relatively short period of time, without causing permanent damage. That is why they are used by many military and police forces in dispersing demonstrations.

Moving to the third world

After World War II, the great powers did indeed develop many chemical weapons, and perfected the means of dispersing them (missile warheads, chemical shells, bombs to be dropped from airplanes), but most of their use was done by other countries. In the 60s, Egypt attacked Yemen with chemical weapons; Vietnam and its neighbors were a scene of warfare with various gases and poisons (although the Americans probably did not use lethal gases, but only tear gas); The Soviets apparently also used similar materials in Afghanistan; In the Iran-Iraq war, thousands were injured by chemical weapons, including nerve gas, and Saddam Hussein's regime also attacked his own people with such weapons. More reports about the use of chemical weapons have surfaced from time to time in different parts of the world, with the greatest fear of the last decades being the fall of such weapons into the hands of terrorist organizations. This fear was realized in 1995, when members of a Japanese cult released sarin gas in several subway stations in Tokyo. 13 people were killed in the attack, and more than a thousand suffered injuries of varying degrees of severity (about 50 were seriously injured). In recent weeks, reports have multiplied about the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons - mainly sarin - against the rebels, and the biggest concern is of course the leakage of these weapons into the hands of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.

3 תגובות

  1. What interests me the most is where are all those scholars who, until a few years ago, claimed that the Golan should be handed over as soon as possible..?
    And to the point:
    Their army spokesman also says that Israel is responsible for the incident, and in the same breath that we aborted the twins and invented AIDS. In other words - I would not suggest you ask the camel about its hump

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