Think tank warns of nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion in Mid­dle East


WARN­INGS OF a “cascade” of nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion in the Mid­dle East, spurred on by fears about Iran’s nu­clear-arms po­ten­tial, have been is­sued this week by a top Lon­don-based defence think tank.

In their re­port, Nu­clear Pro­grammes in the Mid­dle East in the Shadow of Iran, re­searchers at the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies also spoke of fate­ful de­ci­sions faced by Is­rael “as Iran reaches one tech­no­log­i­cal mile­stone af­ter an­other in its jour­ney to­wards ac­quir­ing nu­clear weapons”.

Is­rael, they cau­tioned, would have to de­cide whether and how it could “live with the even­tu­al­ity” of a nu­cle­ar­armed regime in Tehran.

Pre­sent­ing the re­port, the IISS said that “Is­rael’s re­sponse to the loom­ing threat of a nu­clear-armed Iran is fun­da­men­tally dis­tinct from that of its other Mid­dle East neigh­bours.

“Is­rael is alone in pub­licly char­ac­ter­is­ing a nu­clear Iran as a threat to [its] very sur­vival. A nu­clear-armed Iran would erase Is­rael’s nu­clear mo­nop­oly, its most dis­tinct strate­gic as­set, which has served for about four decades as a kind of ul­ti­mate na­tional in­sur­ance pol­icy.”

Is­raeli lead­ers, the re­port points out, have re­peat­edly ex­pressed their com­mit­ment to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to stop Iran from de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons. Is­rael would face “a se­quence of dilem­mas and be forced to make… fate­ful de­ci­sions” if this were to hap­pen.

In its con­clu­sions the re­port said that Iran’s pro­gramme had be­come “a pow­er­ful re­gional pro­lif­er­a­tion driver, build­ing on re­gional ri­valry, se­cu­rity con­cerns and one-up­man­ship”.

For the time be­ing, the ques­tion was how to keep in­ter­est in nu­clear en­ergy among the Arab states con­fined to a civil­ian nu­clear pro­gramme. Al­though the dan­ger of a “pro­lif­er­a­tion cascade in the re­gion was not im­mi­nent... some coun­tries may be po­si­tion­ing them­selves to pro­duce fis­sile ma­te­rial...”

IISS chief ex­ec­u­tive Dr John Chip­man noted that be­tween Fe­bru­ary 2006 and Jan­uary 2007 at least 13 coun­tries in the Mid­dle East had an­nounced new or re­vised plans for civil­ian nu­cle­aren­ergy projects.

This was “re­mark­able, given both the abun­dance of en­ergy sources in the re­gion”, he said.

Is­raeli vice-pre­mier Haim Ra­mon told the Is­rael Bonds an­nual din­ner in Lon­don this week that a nu­clear Iran posed a threat not only to Is­rael but “to the en­tire in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. We will deal with this threat... so that Iran will not reach the point of no re­turn. I be­lieve Is­rael and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will not let Iran reach a nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity. We have the same in­ter­ests as many mod­er­ate Arab states. That is a big change in the Mid­dle East that could lead to new op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

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