The United States and Russia preceded the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Review Conference in New York with a proposal that presents the image of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and this step came in response to the Arab proposal calling for “a nuclear-free Middle East.” This proposal might have been a constructive initiative if it had adopted simultaneous steps towards disarmament [in the Middle East] i.e. the very steps these two countries are taking towards destroying part of their own nuclear arsenals. But the two countries are taking a different approach that is subjecting them to accusations of double standards as they believe that what applies to them does not apply to the countries of the Middle East. They adopted a proposal that excludes Israel and deals with other countries in the region based on the consideration that they are a threat to peace, and that they are the first ones that must be stripped of all their weapons and they are the ones that should reassure Israel and achieve comprehensive peace with it first before thinking about raising the Israeli nuclear weapon issue.
Such a proposal will not prevent some countries in the region thinking about possessing a nuclear weapon, and this is what actually happened in the past whether with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or with Libya, and this is what is happening with Iran today, and what might happen in the near future with Syria or Turkey or others. These words are not in defense of the Iranian nuclear program, as no sane person wants to see a nuclear race kick off in the region; rather, it is a reminder of what is obvious to anyone who wants to see things with an objective eye. There are now two nuclear problems in the region, not one. Perhaps this will increase in the future, and as long as the issue is not dealt with in a comprehensive manner that includes the issue of comprehensive peace then any discussion about a Middle East free of nuclear weapons will remain an unattainable dream.
There are circles in Washington that see this link and recognize that successive US administrations faced embarrassment in responding to repeated criticism that they turn a blind eye to the Israeli nuclear arsenal and that even with regards to the Iranian nuclear file the position from numerous countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey was that it is necessary to declare the entire Middle East a region free of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, and to emphasize the right of states to peaceful nuclear energy. There are claims that there is concern in Israel today that the Obama administration is in part responding positively to the proposal made by Arab countries in dealing with the issue of the Iranian nuclear file by seeking to stop any existing or potential nuclear armament program in Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Syria. As a result, leaks were issued from Israel indicating that Tel Aviv supports making the Middle East a zone free of nuclear weapons but only after comprehensive peace has been achieved.
From this point perhaps we can understand the proposal made in the US-Russia document that roughly adopted the Israeli position based on the condition that comprehensive peace is achieved first and that the Arab states commit to an agreement to get rid of biological and chemical weapons and an agreement banning carrying out nuclear testing “before looking at” the Israeli nuclear file. The problem with this proposal is that as long as Israel uses an unfair logic of force and as long as there is a lack of trust between the Arabs and Israelis, it is impossible to ask one side and not the other to disarm first.
In response to those who say that Israel is the party that feels threatened in the region, and that it cannot give up its nuclear arsenal at the same time, we should refer to the fact that Israel has unparalleled assurances from the United States that it is committed to Israel’s security and that this is considered a strategic matter for the successive US administrations. There are countries that do not own nuclear arsenals such as Japan and South Korea nevertheless they feel secure under the protection of the US military umbrella just like numerous European countries that lived under the protection of nuclear America even at the height of the Cold War.
Nuclear security has become a pressing issue in light of fears that nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of terrorist or criminal organizations that would not hesitate to use them. Courage must be shown in dealing with the issue of nuclear proliferation. The Middle East that has experienced continuous tension and wars because of the Arab-Israeli conflict needs to be a region free of nuclear weapons but on the basis that that includes every party and that that is achieved in a balanced and simultaneous manner as part of comprehensive peace deal in the region.