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Does the Navy Supervise the Deployment of Nerve Gas?

It does not

I’ve become increasingly worried about the rise of people in the U.S. on the far right and far left who hope to see Israel wiped off the map. A recent piece of typically wacky and misinformed Hamas propaganda brought things into clear relief for me — first, the propaganda itself, which reads like a person who learned about the U.S. military from 1980s paperback thrillers and Japanese video games; second, the people who credulously shared it. For folks interested in reading what I’m talking about, the piece is here. I spent some of my life that I can never get back debunking the claim, so you wouldn’t have to waste yours wondering if there’s any merit to Hamas’s concerns (reader, there is not).


The U.S. Navy Does Not Know How to Use Nerve Gas in Tunnels

But the people who believe Hamas when it says it fears the Navy’s Delta Force (?) is preparing to gas its tunnels are worth keeping an eye on

Yesterday an article circulated in certain social media circles claiming that the U.S. Navy was going to be supervising Israel’s deployment of nerve gas into Hamas’ tunnels prior to a hostage rescue mission. Most people who served in the military (and anyone with even a little operational knowledge) read this and instantly knew it was bullshit; if the Army’s failed forays into chemical warfare between WWI and Vietnam bore little fruit, it’s difficult to imagine the Navy investing any energy or effort into such a fickle and ostensibly (to the Navy) useless field.

The Navy did field bombs carrying nerve gas and sarin during the Cold War; between the 1960s and the 1980s, some 1,000 “Weteye” bombs were fielded to deliver gas from attack aircraft in certain difficult-to-envision scenarios. Could these be the source of concern for Hamas? The last of these bombs were decommissioned in 2001, and knowing the military’s manning problems, it’s difficult to envision unit commanders maintaining skills and expertise for weapons we don’t have, when — at least in the Navy — they’re more focused on keeping up on core competencies such as piloting boats, which isn’t as easy as it might sound.

As for the operation involving Delta Force somehow, for folks who don’t know much about what that group does or how it operates, chemical warfare isn’t part of their set either. My answer to potential arguments that they could learn how to deploy chemical weapons is — why would Israel need the supervision of people who themselves are learning how to do a thing? Why, in that case, wouldn’t Israel simply supervise their own efforts — if (as is the case) Delta and the Navy don’t know how to deploy chemical weapons against tunnels? The story adds superfluous layers of complexity to an operation that Israel may or may not be considering.

The personnel on this ship and those like it do not know how to supervise flooding Hamas tunnels with chemical weapons or gas or what have you. Photo via DIVDS, by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Elliot Schaudt.

Hamas is the source for the story, which is hosted on an Iranian website, so, ok, it’s obviously made-up crap that nobody in their right mind would take seriously. But is this something the U.S. military could do? Is this expertise the U.S. military possesses anywhere in its ranks?

The short answer is no; the rest of the U.S. military does not currently possess the expertise or equipment necessary to perform a nerve gas attack on bunkers or tunnels. The Marine Corps does not have this capability, nor does the Army. Both experimented with deploying chemical weapons against tunnels during Vietnam (with limited success) using largely improvised and repurposed devices. Ultimately, they concluded that the effort was not worth the investment. For more on this topic, I encourage those interested to read The Tunnels of Cu Chi, an excellent book that covers U.S. military efforts to fight the Viet Cong in one specific set of tunnels. Again, the military quickly abandoned its efforts along these lines — not out of altruism or based on principle, but because it didn’t work and amounted to a waste of everyone’s time.

For veterans of the U.S. military, it’s not difficult to think back to one’s own experience and understand that a story about the Navy and Delta Force (why not SEAL Team 6, I keep wondering, do they not know about them? Is Hamas the last organization in the world that hasn’t heard of the SEALs?) has to be garbage. What is the utility of putting out such an easily-debunked claim, and who would be dumb enough to share it?

The answer might be — a propaganda operation that’s interested in tying the U.S. to what Israel is doing in Gaza. The U.S. is obviously involved diplomatically, and provides Israel with funding, weapons, and equipment, but that actual aid that exists in reality is not sufficiently damning for some, who need the U.S. to have boots on the ground, who need the U.S. to be directly involved. This, more than anything, explains the desperation of a piece that makes no sense on its surface. The desperation reflects a desire to pull the U.S. into a regional war. And the people sharing the story on social media with commentary such as “really?” and “disturbing if true,” are just doing Iran’s work.


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