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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Nuclear Powers: Asian arms race focuses spotlight on Israel's nuclear arsenal

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Al Habtoor Group

Why is Israel the only Middle East country allowed to stockpile enough nuclear weapons to destroy the whole region?

The recent series of nuclear tests by both India and Pakistan at a time when the peace process in Palestine is faltering, brings into sharp focus Israel's large nuclear arsenal that has been a source of much anxiety and friction with its Arab neighbours Ð it is believed by many scientists that Israel carried out a nuclear test over thirty years ago in the Indian Ocean.

Since then Israel has amassed a nuclear stockpile of more than 200 warheads and has the capability to launch them using F15 and F16 fighter bombers purchased from the Americans, and its own Jericho rockets that have a range of 1,500 kilometers and could easily annihilate Israel's neighbours.

Why is it that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that is allowed to stockpile enough nuclear destruction to destroy all the countries of the region? The answer is that the powerful Jewish lobby in Washington has always ensured that whoever governed America would whole-heartedly and blindly support the ally it needs to support American policy in the region.

While Israel continues to pose a nuclear threat to the peace of the entire Middle East and by extension the rest of the world, it should surprise no one that Israel's Arab neighbours feel that they too should acquire a nuclear arsenal to counter-balance the perceived threat that a militant Jewish state that seemingly has little compunction in using force against its neighbours, poses. Indeed, while it may not be in step with the wishes of the West, it may be a good thing if one or more of Israel's Arab neighbours acquire nuclear technology enabling them to produce their own nuclear warheads, as it would force Israel to think carefully about how it treats its neighbours. For as the Americans and Russians found out during the cold war, the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) forced a lot of clear and careful thinking on the governments of both sides which allowed common self interest to prevail over ideology.

America's Middle East policy has, until now, with the support of the other members in the Nuclear Club (the UK, France, Russia and China), has been one of double standards. On the one hand exerting pressure and placing embargoes on Arab countries who are able to afford and wish to acquire nuclear technology, while on the other, actively supporting Israel's nuclear monopoly, which it sees as the ultimate guarantor of Israel's existence as a Jewish state in Palestine.

But the sudden arrival of this new nuclear arms race in Asia, will produce a decisive shift in the Middle East balance of power, which has been tilted heavily in Israel's favour since its 1967 military offensive against its Arab Neighbours. In fact, the Israeli Government is so concerned about this shift, that it is believed by some observers that the news that Pakistan, a Muslim State, now possesses a nuclear device has led to a marking time over the next stage of re-deployment in the West Bank and Gaza .

This shift in the balance of power however, will not be produced by an "Islamic Bomb", but by the process of proliferation which will flow from the United States inability to stop the tests. This failure is a serious blow to America's prestige and credibility in the region, and will encourage others to press ahead with nuclear programmes aimed at securing membership of the Nuclear Club which India and Pakistan as declared nuclear powers have forced their way in to, whether their status is recognised or not by the Big Five.

Proliferation is inevitable, nuclear technology by its nature, is a natural proliferator, because of the high costs of application to both civilian and military uses. Countries who build reactors to generate electricity at home need to export in order to pay for their own research and development programmes. The first proliferator of course was the United States who, through its "Atoms for Peace" programme in the early fifties enabled at least three recipients of small research reactors under this programme to develop their own bomb-making plants. One of which was Israel. China and Russia followed, supplying know-how and technology to other countries throughout the world, under the umbrella of exporting peaceful technology for electricity and desalination plants. This was done to earn hard currency to bolster their economies. Now that India and Pakistan - two much poorer nations - have developed nuclear technology, they will in turn proliferate and sell their know-how on to others.

Thus the proliferation policies of the United States, Russia, China, and Europe, will enable some of Israel's Arab neighbours to build a few bombs, and shift the balance of power in the region in their favour. This shift will come about because while Israel, with its 200 nuclear warheads, and its US supplied state -of-art delivery systems, will always be able to destroy all neighbouring Arab countries and Iran, Arab or Iranian nuclear bombs in hardened well-protected silos will create a balance of terror which will effectively equalise the number of warheads held by the two sides.

This will, for the first time since 1948, diminish Israel's "qualitative edge" over the Arab nations, which, in 1948, because of its overwhelming superiority in terms of men under arms and material, enabled it to defeat the much smaller Arab armies set against it.

Until 1967 Arab politicians and Military did not fully understand or accept the "qualitative edge". The 1967 war taught them that if they wished to wage war against Israel than this "qualitative edge" had to be taken into account and gotten round or negated by attacking first. Indeed that is what happened in October 1973, when the Arabs were initially successful when they launched their first ever surprise attack and denied Israel's superior forces and equipment the advantage of the first thrust. But this early advantage was quickly reversed when Israel's ally the United States established an air-bridge and supplied them with enough new weaponry to restore the "qualitative edge" in conventional weapons. But it is not to be forgotten that to ensure that the United states would provide the necessary equipment and use its influence to hinder the Arab's cause, the Israeli's, deployed some of their nuclear warheads and threatened to use them against Arab capitals, if Washington did not re-supply in time for Israeli forces to reverse the course of the conflict, which in the early stages favoured the Arab cause. Thus Israel's nuclear blackmail ensured that the balance of force swung in their favour as the Arab countries had no nuclear stick with which to retaliate.

By giving the Israelis overwhelming military might over the entire Arab world and Iran, fhe US has enabled Israel to become an imperialist power in an age of anti- imperialism . Israel has transformed from a settler state into a colonial occupying power, and through war has occupied the West Bank, The Golan Heights, Gaza and part of Lebanon.

It also jealously guards its nuclear superiority. When Iraq began to develop its nuclear capability, Israel attacked and destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor; despite this, Iraq continued with its nuclear program, doing well until the madness of the Kuwaiti invasion led to the destruction of its military. It is believed that some countries in the region are believed to have advanced nuclear programmes, which begs the question; what will the Israelis do if any of these countries reach the stage of testing a nuclear device?

The US has consistently supported Israel's use of force to suppress the development of nuclear weapons by the Arab states. It also strongly discourages Arab countries, even those that are friendly to the western powers, from acquiring such capability. But so long as Israel has them it will invite others to acquire them too. Arab rulers feel dwarfed by seeing Israel with impunity totally disregarding the aspirations of its neighbours. Such behaviour is basically rooted in possessing the preponderance of power in the region. Israel's dictating of the peace process reflects this reality.

As long as Israel is a nuclear state and threatens the stability of the region and the US's biased Middle East policy remains unchanged, all the countries of the Middle East will see it as their right to protect themselves, if need be with a nuclear bomb. The US cannot change this situation by bribing one nation or threatening another.

Instead the clearest and perhaps safest US policy would be to remove the threat of a nuclear Armageddon from the Middle East altogether, by forcing Israel to sign the nuclear non- proliferation treaty and de-commission its current stockpile of nuclear warheads. It cannot continue to allow Israel to own nuclear weapons while preventing its neighbours from acquiring them. The US may be able to continue with this policy in the short term, but as the Indian and Pakistan tests demonstrate, proliferation is inevitable.

To help focus American thinking, the Arab countries of the region and Iran, should take a lesson from Israel's book of diplomatic relations with America. They should band together to speak with a single voice on matters that concern them in their struggle with Israel. They, like Israel's American Jewish lobby should seek to influence the policy makers on Capitol Hill in the Senate and Congress. This is something that we Arabs singularly fail to do; we seem unable to communicate in a way that Americans feel comfortable with. While a lobbyist for Israel knows how to put a Congressman or Senator at his ease and is able to talk to him in a way that elicits sympathy, all too often our representatives seem stiff and stilted, unable or unwilling to adapt to America's less formal culture, while at the same time being suspicious or condemning of its values. We cannot expect to influence people if all we appear to do is criticise them.

If we want the American administration to review its Middle East policy and introduce a more balanced and rational approach to the problems of the region - that encompasses the ambitions of the Arab people for peace and stability, supports UN resolutions on the West Bank, curbs the proliferation of nuclear technology and forces the dismantling of the Israeli nuclear arsenal, we must learn to communicate our fears and grievances clearly and in a way that elicits sympathy, not fear, from the listener.


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