Think tank warns of nuclear proliferation in Middle East

By Bernard Josephs, May 23, 2008
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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 nuclear-armed 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 nuclear-energy 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.”

    Last updated: 10:20am, May 27 2008