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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

 State Information Service(SIS)
Ministry of Information (MOI)
  Arab Republic of Egypt

Letter from Cairo

June 14 - June 17, 1998

Armed and dangerous

    The continuing deadlock in Middle East peace making could lead to the eruption of tension in the region. Israel's failure to deny reports that it is the only regional nuclear power has added fuel to the simmering coals.

    "Even if Israel does not follow in the footsteps of India and Pakistan and conduct its own nuclear tests, the fact that it continues to have this nuclear arsenal, subjected to no inspections and no safeguards, is very alarming," one Foreign Ministry official said. "Nuclear seepage is now a threat to other countries in the region, which have all joined the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]."

    So far, all efforts to alter this situation have failed. Sources say that, without serious US intervention, the situation is unlikely to improve.

    Egypt, a regional leader, has voiced its concern at Israel's intransigence repeatedly. It has acted with determination to convey to the international community the incalculable risks of tolerating Israeli policy. "Israel has to join the NPT now, or the treaty will be devoid of meaning for the countries of the Middle East, and the credibility of the whole non-proliferation regime will be in question," warned Foreign Minister Amr Moussa.

    Addressing the UN Security Council this week, Egypt's UN ambassador, Nabil El-Arabi, voiced his concern at Israel's continued refusal to join the NPT. He said the time has come for all concerned parties to support Egypt's efforts to banish weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East once and for all.

    Israel, India, Pakistan and Cuba are the only countries that remain outside the NPT. The United States imposed economic sanctions on both India and Pakistan following their recent tests. Cuba has been subjected to American sanctions for decades. In other words, Israel is the only country that is outside both the NPT and the wide range of US economic sanctions. In fact, America is the largest aid donor to Israel.

    A nuclear state which is also driven by ambitions of territorial expansion, regional hegemony and right-wing extremism is a very dangerous state. And this is why, according to diplomatic sources, Cairo's concern over Israel's refusal to join the NPT is closely linked to its trepidation over the Netanyahu government's consistent sabotaging of the peace process.

    Within this context, Egypt has been involved in extensive consultations to forge a unified Arab stance. These could lead to an Arab mini-summit responsible for formulating concrete resolutions on ways of balancing Israeli intransigence.

    Another tool of Egyptian diplomacy is the international peace conference which Mubarak and French President Jacques Chirac suggested jointly.

    From the outset, Cairo has been discussing the two main regional concerns - the peace process and nuclear proliferation - with Washington. Meanwhile, Israel has consistently reaffirmed its intention to stick to its current policies on the two issues.

    Israel has justified its nuclear program, begun in the 1950s, by citing the lack of peace with the Arabs. "First they said they cannot denuclearise as long as there are no peace negotiations; then they said they cannot sign the NPT as long as there are no peace treaties; now, they say they will remain nuclear as long as there are threats to their security," a concerned Foreign Ministry official said.

    The 1991 Madrid Peace Conference established a multinational mechanism to work on making the Middle East a nuclear weapon-free zone. This mechanism, however, stalled three years ago as a result of the Israeli position. The US, the main sponsor of the peace process, is not putting any pressure on Israel to show commitment to peace-making or nuclear non-proliferation.

    On the issue of nuclear proliferation, in fact, the US attitude can only be seen as encouraging to Israel. During a conference held in Geneva last month in preparation for the next NPT review conference in 2000, the US seemed unwilling to take concrete steps to make the Middle East a nuclear weapon-free zone. An agreement on this point was part of a package that led to the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995.

    On the peace front, Washington was also unwilling to put pressure on Israel to end the 18 month deadlock by accepting a US package of ideas for redeployment in the West Bank. "The US knows very well that the Palestinians made important concessions by accepting this package and yet it is not ready to use its clout with the Israelis to accept it," a senior official said.

    Moreover, the US has ignored Arab requests that it publicize the result of its mediation effort and put the blame for its failure on Israel. Instead, Washington continues to argue that there are still chances of convincing the Israeli government. On Tuesday, US Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs Martin Indyk told President Hosni Mubarak that the US is still willing to pursue efforts to convince Israel.

    Does this imply too much dependence on the US in handling regional concerns? NO, argue done official: "It is just that US intervention is indispensable when it comes to convincing Israel."

Edited from Al Ahram Weekly

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