The balance of power and WMDs in the Middle East

Namira Negm , Monday 7 Oct 2013

Will establishing a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the region remain a mirage for long?

Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in the Middle East were the focal point of the speeches delivered by regional leaders at the United Nations’ 68th General Assembly opening session in September. From Rouhani of Iran to Netanyahu of Israel, from Syria to Egypt, the meaning was clear: the Arab Spring is turning into the WMDs' autumn of struggle for survival in the region.

Without even attending to every word in the speeches, one can easily discern that the uprisings and changes in the region have led to a new phase in the arms race between its states. President Rouhani’s first address to the old institution was geared towards asserting peace and negating allegations against his country's production of nuclear weapons. He was adamant on delivering a clear message: Iran does not seek to militarise its nuclear programme. 

In response, and interestingly enough, Prime Minister Netanyahu, an old veteran in addressing the institution, ignored the peace issue of the occupied territories and focused primarily on responding to the Iranian address. Rather than defending himself or speaking of the future of the Israeli nuclear arsenal, Mr Netanyahu relied on his old tactics and launched an attack on President Rouhani. 

Paying no attention to, and offering no response about, the Iranian leader's compassionate message on the Holocaust, the Israeli prime minister seemed to interpret Rouhani's words as nothing but a sugar-coated bluff. Furthermore, Netanyahu discredited Iran's lucid statement against any intentions of building nuclear weapons by threatening to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities if Israel receives confirmation of the militarisation of Iran's nuclear programme. 

The threat of using force by a UN member state against another in a formal address before the General Assembly is appalling. Under international law and the UN Charter, there is no legality to a pre-emptive strike. Article 51 of the UN Charter explicitly stipulates that if an attack does occur against a state, the latter has the right to act under self-defence but not before. What is more striking is Israel's intent to run for a rotating Security Council seat in 2019, which requires that the state be a peace-loving one!

Complementing the previously-mentioned speeches, the Egyptian address proposed a serious initiative to bring regional states to a conference around the future of WMDs in their territories and to establish a WMDs Free Zone in the Middle East. Moreover, the Syrian address focused on depicting what is taking place in Syria as a fight against terror rather than a civil war. It has also confirmed the Syrian government's commitment towards dismantling its chemical weapons arsenal after it has ratified the Convention for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. However, Syria’s deputy prime minister questioned the intent of other states to live up to their obligations under the Convention and refrain from supplying the “terrorists,” as he called the rebel groups, with poisonous gas for use against innocent civilians.

To sum it up, although Israel is still an occupying power to Arab territories, it remains concerned with protecting its nuclear arsenal and its military supremacy in the region. The dismantling of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal will not only preserve Israeli supremacy, but will also remove all possible threats from its eastern side, along with any hopes for Syria to retrieve its occupied Golan Heights in the near future. 

Israel is ready to stand alone and fight Iran to guard its nuclear monopoly in the region. In fact, although it is still a farfetched dream and a daunting task, the sole hope for establishing real peace in the Middle East lies in the Egyptian initiative to negotiate in good faith the establishment of a zone free from WMDs in the region. We just hope it will not remain a mirage for long!


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