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Wanted: A nuclear-free Middle East

Last updated: Friday, November 30, 2012 12:29 AM



The hacking on the web site of the UN’s nuclear agency is to be deplored.

We have experienced here in the Kingdom the disruption that can be caused by hackers, when the Saudi Aramco computer system was attacked this year.

Nevertheless, this crime committed by a previously unknown group calling itself Parastoo has had the virtue of highlighting Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons arsenal. The hackers posted a message calling on a hundred nuclear experts to demand that Israel come clean to the International Atomic Energy Agency on its weapons program.

The fact that “Parastoo” is the Persian word for “swallow” would seem to indicate that the attack came from Iran. If this is the case, it is clearly designed to point up the hypocrisy of US-led demands that Tehran reveal full details of its own nuclear program, while Israel steadfastly refuses to allow the IAEA to inspect its own nuclear industry. This obduracy has destabilized the region to the extent that what is widely believed to be the Iranian nuclear weaponization program is doubtless justified covertly among the Iranian leadership as a necessary counterbalance to the Israeli threat.

Some 30 years ago, when Israel was building up its nuclear arsenal with technology either given by or stolen from the Americans, the blithe assumption in Washington was clearly that Israel’s atomic weaponry and its “strategic ambiguity” about its possession would somehow allow it permanent protection from military challenge. Wiser counsel would however have established that this imperialist attitude toward other countries in the region was misbegotten. It was inevitable that at some point Israel’s nuclear hegemony would be challenged successfully. As a result, the stability of the whole Middle East would be in danger. It now appears that we are approaching this moment. What the Americans and the Israelis once thought of as a deterrent has become a Damoclean sword that hangs over the whole region.

The Obama administration might yet head off the Iranian drive for its own deterrent if it persuaded the Israelis to first sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it has consistently refused to do, and then honor its obligation under that international legislation by opening all its nuclear facilities to the IAEA. Iran, which is actually a signatory to the treaty, could be placed in a position where it would be obliged to do likewise. No doubt there would be accusations that the Israelis were trying to hide part of their program from inspectors. Tehran would surely seek to do everything to allow it to press on with its own atomic effort.

However, none of this would produce insuperable barriers to progress.

Once all the cards were laid on the table, the crucial issue of nuclear disarmament could be addressed. After all, are not Washington and Moscow, along with the French and the British, supposedly committed to the ultimate goal of getting rid of their nuclear arsenals? These countries wring their hands at the issue of proliferation, but if they are serious, they could set a real lead by reducing their nuclear stockpiles yet further.

They should also press for the IAEA to be given bigger teeth to address the atomic weaponry of India, Pakistan, China and North Korea, and any other state that feels that it can improve its world standing by becoming a nuclear power. These are weapons of unspeakable power and appalling destructive ability. The Middle East must be made a nuclear-free zone.

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