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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Better Late

"Al Ahram Weekly" May 04 , 2000

Egypt's five-year effort to declare the Middle East region a nuclear-free zone, and to open up Israel's nuclear facilities to international inspection, may be moving forward. According to news reports the US, faced with mounting international pressure on Israel to disclose details of its nuclear weapons programme, has reached an "understanding" with Egypt that the final statement of the on-going UN review conference for countries which signed the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will include a clause formally identifying Israel as a nuclear power and urging it to open its nuclear facilities to intentional inspectors.

If this happens it will signal a radical shift in Washington's decades-long support of Israeli ambiguity concerning its nuclear capabilities. Disregarding every legitimate security and safety concern expressed by Arab states Israel, backed by the US, has consistently argued that its nuclear file should remain closed until a comprehensive settlement has been reached in the Middle East. Israeli officials also argue that the file can only be opened when countries like Iran and Iraq also agree to weapon decommissioning, though neither is believed to be anywhere near developing a nuclear capability.

The US, along with Britain, France, China and Russia, is currently facing strong criticism at the NPT review conference for not respecting their pledges on disarmament.

The nuclear powers, particularly the US, are belatedly discovering that they cannot continue pressing countries to ban the development of weapons of mass destruction while allowing Israel, with its estimated nuclear arsenal of more than 200 warheads, to remain an exception to the rule. The international community is increasingly willing to question Washington's insistence on pressuring nations such as Pakistan and India to join the NPT when Israel is consistently treated as an exception.

Israel's ambiguity vis--vis nuclear weapons places an intolerable stress on the possibility of ever achieving a true peace. Arab populations that have to cope with that stress are surely entitled to know what Israeli capabilities are, and must continue to press for the opening of Israel's nuclear facilities to international inspection. Arab security and safety concerns are no less significant than those of Israel.

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