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Nuclear irony is lost on the West

January 25, 2014 at 4:01 am

It is ironic that Western nations seeking to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions are the same countries which sold nuclear technology to Tehran in the first place. Iran has worked with the US and Western nations since the 1950s to develop its nuclear energy capabilities.

In 1975, German conglomerates Kraftwerk Union and Siemens started construction on the now infamous Bushehr Nuclear Plant. After completing more than 50 per cent of the work, and following the Iranian Islamic revolution, the Germans abandoned the project in an apparent dispute over payments with the new government.

In the mid-1990s, employing the same German-pressurised water reactor technology, Iran contracted Russia to complete the work. The nuclear facility eventually became operational almost 30 years later to a fanfare of international condemnation and Israeli protests.

Western counties, especially the nuclear powers, have little to fear from Iran, even if it ever actually becomes a nuclear power. Even Israel, which has been the most bellicose nation, cannot realistically be threatened strategically by a nuclear Iran.

History has shown that military nuclear power is a deterrent rather than an offensive weapon. The only time a nuclear bomb has been used in anger was against a non-nuclear power. Accordingly, in the absence of a balance of power, only non-nuclear regional entities could possibly have genuine, credible concerns about their nuclear neighbours, whether Iran or Israel.

However, Israel is upset at the prospect of another nation developing a deterrent to its nuclear hegemony in the region. Hence, the six major powers seeking to reign in Iran’s nuclear programme   the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany – are helping to uphold Israel’s absolute monopoly on nuclear technology in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials are accusing Iran of using talks “to gain time”. This is interesting since “buying time”, or negotiation for the sake of negotiation, is the same strategy Israel has exploited for 20 years in marathon talks with the Palestinians, while building more illegal settlements over the land supposedly on the table for negotiation.

It discredits the US that, following the latest negotiations about Iran, instead of heading back to Washington, the US delegation flew directly to Tel Aviv to report to Israeli leaders on their meetings in Baghdad.

The US negotiating team, headed by Under-Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and accompanied by National Security Council officials working on Iran’s nuclear programme, met the Israeli defence minister and other senior officials for three hours to brief them on their talks with Iran.

The same defence minister threatened last week to attack Iran, even if Tehran agrees to open up its nuclear facilities to greater UN inspection. Obviously, Israel is not only interested in curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but also its access to knowledge that might allow it to develop a nuclear weapons programme in the future.

The five plus one should be guided by reason, not by Israel’s irrational paranoia that foresees other nations’ potential nuclear development and knowledge as a “security” threat. If the West continues to ignore Israel’s proven possession of nuclear weapons, public pressure will eventually force new democracies in the region to develop the same deterrence capabilities.

As such, rather than focusing on Iran, the five plus one should direct their efforts towards promoting a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction, imaginary or real. And Israel should be at the top of the list.

*Jamal Kanj writes frequently on Arab world issues and is the author of Children of Catastrophe, Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. This article was published first in the Gulf Daily News. Jamal can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.