New Nuclear Hysteria in the Middle East
MADRID, Feb 29 2016 (IPS) – Three years ago when the tsunami of panic around Iran’s potential capability to develop nuclear weapons reached its peak, a combined diplomatic, media campaign warning that a Gulf Arab state would think of purchasing atomic bombs was spread like an oil spot.
Now that the so-called P5+1group (US, UK, France, Russia and China, plus Germany) few months ago concluded an agreement with Iran to prevent the risk of an eventual military nuclear programme in exchange of lifting massive Western sanctions, a new wave of nuclear hysteria seems to be in the air.
In fact, just a few days ago, a news item that the Gulf states would be now seeking nukes, came out of the Munich Security Conference, which was basically meant to set an accord between the US and Russia to establish a humanitarian ceasefire as a step on the 18 December 2015 UN Resolution 2254 (2015) roadmap for Syria.
The majority of Arab media did not pay due attention to this piece of news which, if translated into real facts, would change the fate of the whole region.
What is this all about ?
The Persian Gulf states seeking nuclear weapons to counter “bad guy” Iran have held clandestine meetings with Israel despite not having official ties with Tel Aviv, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon revealed at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, RT on 15 February reported.
Arabs Ready to Acquire Nukes?
“We see signs that countries in the Arab world are preparing to acquire nuclear weapons, that they are not willing to sit quietly with Iran on brink of a nuclear or atomic bomb,” Ya’alon told fellow defense ministers on Sunday [14 February], the final day of the Munich Security Conference.
Ya’alon did not name specific countries who might be interested in developing nuclear weapons and gave no evidence to back up his claims –RT informed– however, he then made a surprise statement that the Gulf states – officially hostile to Tel Aviv because of its occupation of the West Bank – had held clandestine meetings with Israel.
“Not only Jordan and Egypt,” he said, referring to the only Arab countries who signed peace treaties with Israel after three Arab-Israeli wars, according to this television network which runs cable and satellite television channels directed to audiences outside the Russian Federation.
“I speak about the Gulf states and North African states too. Unfortunately they are not here to listen. For them, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood are the enemy. Iran is the bad guy for us and for the Sunni regimes. They are not shaking hands [with Israelis] in public, but we meet in closed rooms.”
In the meantime, Israel is widely believed to possess dozens of nuclear warheads, although official statistics do not exist… Israel possesses Jericho-3 ballistic missiles capable of delivering up to 1,000kg load at ranges of 4,800 to 6,500km. Additionally, it is believed to have a naval nuclear strike capability, using Dolphin-class submarine-launched nuclear-capable cruise missiles, said RT.
The Israeli Air Force also has F-15I and F-16I Sufa fighter aircraft, which can be utilized to deliver tactical and strategic nuclear weapons at long distances using external fuel tanks or aerial re-fueling fleet of modified Boeing 707s, according to the Russian network.
“We do have atomic bombs. This is no news. World powers know that we have the bomb and we want to test it. This would take place should Iran conduct a nuclear test,” prominent Saudi political analyst, Daham to Anzi, told RT,” the Russian TV network on 20 February½ reported in its Spanish service.
“US sources said in May last year that Saudi military had traveled to Pakistan, an ally country, to acquire nuclear weapons “available for sale”. This action of the Saudi military was motivated by Ryiad’s concerns of a hypothetical nuclear threat from Iran.”
A Nuclear Free Middle East
This is not the first time that the risk that Gulf countries may acquire nuclear arms has been raised. Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi ambassador to the United States, had over two years ago warned that nuclear threats from Israel and Iran might force Saudi Arabia to follow suit.
As the Wall Street Journal on November 2013 pointed out, the Saudis may conclude that international acceptance of a nuclear programme of any kind by Iran may compel them “to seek their own nuclear weapons capability through a simple purchase.” The likely source: Pakistan, whose nuclear programme was partly funded by the Saudis.
In fact, the 22 states forming the Arab region are all signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which meets, every five years, to review the state of implementation of this global agreement aimed at preventing the proliferation of atomic warheads. In all successive review conferences, the Arab states reiterated their proposal to declare the Middle East a nuclear-free zone.
Though the UN Security Council adopted in 1995 a resolution meant to pursue this goal, the NPT review conferences have so far failed to move forward in such direction, mainly due to Israeli, US-backed position against any attempt implying that Tel Aviv dismantles its nuclear arsenal.
Israel is widely believed to posses between 210 and 250 nuclear warheads, an amount that largely exceeds those in the hands of India (80 nuclear bombs) and Pakistan (90). The government of Tel Aviv systematically refuses either to confirm or deny the existence of such nuclear arsenal.
The sole attempt to implement the 1995 Security Council’s resolution, came out in 2010, when the NPT review meeting called for an “international conference” –not under the UN umbrella– to deal with that resolution. Following intensive efforts to find a country ready to host the conference, Finland volunteered to have it in Helsinki. But diplomatic talks failed to organise the meeting.
In view of this yet another frustration and also of the brinkmanship games being played by big military powers in the region, the Arab countries in general, and in the Gulf region in particular, have lately been expressing fresh fears of Iran’s nuclear programme and therefore focusing, again, on nukes.
Not That the Arabs Want to Go Nuclear, But…
Arab states have repeatedly heralded their opposition to any kind of nuclear activity in the region.
In fact, a couple of years ahead of the 2015 NPT conference, both Bahrain’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ghanum Fadhel Al Buainain, and Foreign Affairs Minister, Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, told this journalist in Manama in March 2013 that their nation – likewise all other Gulf countries – do not want to hear a word about any nuclear activities, even for peaceful purposes.
Their arguments are that even civil nuclear activities of whatever nature, have strong, negative impacts on the very lives and livelihoods of the Gulf peoples, from polluting waters and thus affecting the fish –which historically constituted an important source of living– to the risk of a nuclear accident.
The Bahraini stand is still valid and it applies to all the Gulf states, said to IPS this week a retired high governmental official. “None of us want to have to do with any atomic weapon. But you must understand our fears from both nuclear Israel and a potential nuclear Iran… We have to defend ourselves, protect our people.”
The Real “Security”
In an evident signal confirm their stand, the Bahraini capital, Manama, hosted a major anti-nuclear campaigners activity–the international exhibition “From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace: Towards a World Free from Nuclear Weapons”
Organised by the Tokyo-based non-governmental civil society association Soka Gakkai International (SGI), with the support of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), together with the Inter Press Service IPS and the UN Information Centre in Manama, and promoted by the Bahraini and Japanese ministries of foreign affairs, the exhibition was held in Manama from Mar. 12-23, 2013.
“Nuclear weapons – the most inhuman and destructive of all tools of war – are at the peak of a pyramid of violence in this increasingly interdependent world,” said anti-nuclear campaigners. “The threat of atomic weapons is not in the past… It is a major crisis today.”
“This exhibition –the first ever in an Arab country – (represents) a step further toward making the human aspiration to live in a world free from nuclear weapons a reality,” SGI’s executive director for peace affairs, Hirotugu Terasaki, told this journalist.
“The very existence of these weapons –the most inhuman of all– implies a major danger,” said Terasaki, who is also the vice president of this Buddhist organisation that promotes international peace and security, with more than 12 million members all over the planet.
Asked about the argument used by nuclear powers that the possession of such weapons is a major guarantee of safety and security – the so-called “deterrence doctrine” – Terasaki said, “The world should now move beyond this myth.”
According to the exhibition’s promoters, “Security” begins with basic human needs: shelter, air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat. People need to work, to care for their health, to be protected from violence.
These—and not nuclear bombs, are exactly the basic human needs that are lacking in Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen… and more to come.