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Although Iraq's supplies of chemical and biological weapons were largely decimated in the war, the threat of such evil material has not been banished from the region. Libya is busy making poison gas.

The very idea of such weapons in the volatile Middle East, particularly in the hands of an unstable leader like Moammar Gadhafi - who has supported some of the world's worst terrorists - is enough to make the whole world - and Israel in particular - uneasy.Peace is going to be hard to produce in the Middle East, a cauldron of old and deep hatreds. Israel can hardly be blamed for taking hard-line positions when it is surrounded by implacable enemies, including people like Gadhafi who are producing poison gas.

For what purpose are the chemicals? It certainly isn't a question of Libyan self-defense. The only plausible target is Israel. Libya also has Soviet-built short-range missiles that could possibly carry chemical warheads.

Poison gas is being produced in large amounts at a fire-damaged plant at Rabta, a town about 60 miles from the Libyan capital of Tripoli. The fire - of unknown origin a year ago - supposedly put the factory out of operation, but U.S. officials now say the plant never stopped producing poison gas.

Gadhafi blamed foreign agents for the fire, but intelligence agents say the blaze was a hoax designed to divert the possibility of a U.S. bombing attack on the plant. Gadhafi says the plant will reopen within three months to produce "medicine." That is reminiscent of the biological weapons plant in Baghdad that was identified by the Iraqis as a "baby milk factory."

Not only is the Rabta installation producing poison gas, but a second facility is being constructed nearby for the same purpose. Germany companies were the main contractors for the first Rabta plant, but that country has since put strict export control laws into effect since being embarrassed by the news that German firms had helped Iraq with its chemical, biological and nuclear capability.

The existence of the two poison gas facilities is nothing but bad news for the Middle East. If they happened - with a little help - to blow up or burn down "for real," few people would really be sorry.