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by Jamal Dajani

Election Underscores Bitter Divisions In Iran

(PNS) -- Contrary to popular conception in the West, the threat of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is not just an Israeli concern. Arabs are alarmed by an increasingly nuclear Middle East, and fear both Israel's and Iran's nuclear capabilities.

Every year at the general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Arab representatives request that the agency condemn Israel's nuclear arsenal and demand that the country join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty arms control pact. They demand that Israel open all its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection, and call for making the Middle East a region free of nuclear weapons. This drive, however, is continually stymied by U.S. and EU opposition. Meanwhile, Israel remains non-committal, neither admitting nor denying possessing nuclear weapons.

As the war of words between Iran and Israel heats up, Arabs feel caught in the middle.

Last December, leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman) met in Abu Dhabi to discuss the current hot spots of the Middle East: the war in Iraq, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Syrian-Lebanese crisis and Iran's controversial nuclear program.

"There is concern that Iran's nuclear program could be weaponized," Reuters quoted one conference official as saying. "At the end of the day, they (the Iranians) are building a nuclear reactor across the Gulf ... There is also concern that if there is any military action (against Iran), Iran might retaliate and attack pro-U.S. allies in the Gulf."

The nuclear programs of both Iran and Israel go back decades.

The Iranian nuclear program began in the Shah's era in the 1960s, under the auspices of the United States. Iran's first nuclear research center was equipped with a U.S.-supplied 5-megawatt nuclear research reactor. The Shah at the time had plans to build as many as 23 nuclear power stations across the country with help from the United States.

Meanwhile, Israel's nuclear ambition practically began at the creation of the state. In 1949, Hemed Gimmel, a special unit of the Israeli Defense Force's Science Corps began a geological survey in the Negev desert in search of uranium reserves. Later, in 1952, the Israel Atomic Energy Commission was created. At that time, its chairman, Ernst David Bergmann, declared that an "Israeli bomb" was the best way to ensure "that we shall never again be led as lambs to the slaughter."

If the Israeli nuclear program grew out of fear of its neighbors and the conviction that the Holocaust justified any measures Israel took to ensure its survival, from where does Iran's justification come?

On Sept. 22, 1980, following a long history of border disputes, Iraq invaded Iran. The war lasted eight years, claimed 1 million casualties, and cost over a trillion dollars. The majority of Arab nations supported Saddam's regime both financially and militarily. International antipathy toward the Islamic Revolution in Iran contributed to an apathetic response by the rest of the world to Iraq's use of chemical warfare, which caused the death of over 100,000 Iranian troops and civilians.

Resentment toward Arabs by Persians is not just a product of the Iran-Iraq war. It goes back to the seventh century, when the last Sassanid shah, Yazdegerd III, lost a 14-year struggle to drive out the Umayyad Caliphate out of the Persian Empire.

The similarities between Iran's and Israel's desire for nuclear dominance can also be seen in Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's claim that Iran is developing its nuclear program for "peaceful purposes." That assertion brings to mind David Ben-Gurion's own in December of 1960. When U-2 spy planes identified Dimona as an Israeli nuclear site, Ben-Gurion claimed that it was only a nuclear research center built for "peaceful purposes."

Arab states have been previously engaged in long and bloody wars with both Israel and Iran. In the present scheme of things, however, they may seek to join the nuclear arm race as well.

It is convenient to characterize possession of nuclear capability as benevolent when it is ourselves or our allies who are being questioned. But it is unrealistic to expect some nations to lay down their arms and make themselves vulnerable to others who will not.

Taking Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council could be an opportunity to affect meaningful and long lasting detente in the Middle East -- if the Security Council also looks seriously into the current danger posed by Israel's nuclear arsenal. Until then, Arabs will feel caught in the middle.

Jamal Dajani is director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV

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Albion Monitor   January 23, 2006   (

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