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Israel and Iran Obstacles to Nuke Free Mideast Depending on Perspective

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By Mel Frykberg | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

TEL AVIV | RAMALLAH (IDN) - Six world powers are looking towards the end of June to reach an agreement in regard to Iran’s nuclear programme in return for lifting the sanctions imposed on the Islamic theocracy.

In the interim Iran’s nuclear ambitions are once again dominating the headlines as the Western powers look to the end of March for an agreement on a political framework before June’s deadline.

This framework agreement comes shortly before the next Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference from April 27 to May 22, 2015 at UN Headquarters in New York.

IDN spoke to Israeli and Palestinian experts on their perspectives in regard to a future Mideast free of nuclear weapons, the likelihood of this ever becoming a reality and what obstacles may prevent this goal from being achieved.

Ephraim Asculai, is a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, an expert on Iran and nuclear issues facing the Middle East, and reflects Israel’s conservative point of view.

“I’m not sure we will see any progress in the framework talks towards the June deadline,” Asculai told IDN.

“Deadlines have come and gone and we are hearing conflicting views, nothing is official. Different sources are stating different opinions about reaching agreement with some sources outlining difficulties.

“The Iranians are very clever negotiators. Their main goal isn’t an agreement that satisfies the international community but rather to get the international sanctions lifted.

“However, in order to get these lifted they need to be seen as having reached a compromise, while simultaneously not giving up their nuclear ambitions,” said Asculai.

“They already have some capability for developing weapons and they don’t want any international restrictions on their current capabilities,” said Ascalai.

“I don’t believe that Iran will attack Israel”

He added: “I don’t think the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear weapon at this point but they want advanced capabilities to be able to develop one should they feel threatened.

“Once they have the advanced capabilities, should they receive orders from the Iranian leadership to develop a weapon they will. Ultimately I think the Iranians are just postponing the inevitable.”

Asculai believes that there is a possibility that regional Arab countries would also try to obtain nuclear weapons – should Iran’s nuclear programme not be curbed – as part of a mutual Sunni defence against Shi’ite Iran.

Furthermore, Asculai said, Israel’s nuclear weapons were not a factor in the Gulf countries possibly pursuing nuclear weapons programmes. He dismissed accusations that current Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu was being provocative in his constant accusations that Iran poses an existential threat to the Jewish state.

“I don’t believe that Iran will attack Israel. The chances of that are very low. However, Netanyahu is right to be cautious in regard to Israel’s security and Israel should reserve the right to attack Iran if necessary,” Asculai told IDN.

“Iran consistently attacks Israel verbally. It has denied the Holocaust and this touches a raw nerve with Israelis.

“Teheran has also threatened to wipe Israel off the map which is a very dangerous game. Israel responds by defending itself verbally. Both sides are engaged in a war of word,” he said.

“Israel is not a threat to Iran and it’s not a case of Israelis being against Iranians. We used to have very good relations with that country prior to the Islamic republic coming into power.”

Asculai believes that a nuclear-free Middle East is possible if Iran gives up its nuclear ambitions and decides to become a respected member of the international community.

“But at the moment they are not being transparent, they are blocking nuclear inspectors from sites and they are lying about their capabilities,” stated Ascalai.

In regard to whether the public is being told the full story, Asculai believes that the media has not been given access to the full story because of Iranian intransigence but that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is even handed and reporting what it knows.

“An agreement with Iran is possible”

However, Political scientist, Professor Samir Awad, from Birzeit University near Ramallah, disagrees with Asculai and challenged his analysis.

“I think there is a possibility of reaching an agreement with Iran. Iran has made it abundantly clear that it has no intention of pursuing a nuclear programme for military purposes and this claim has been supported by both the Russians and the Chinese,” Awad told IDN.

“Iran wants to develop its nuclear programme for civilian purposes to help its economy develop, i.e. to have the same capabilities that are possessed by Germany, Japan, Brazil and South Africa.

“It aims to have sufficient nuclear technology for generating energy and has the same right as other countries to possess this. President Rohani wants to open the country up to the world.

“He doesn’t want an isolated and secluded country where Iranians with their high standard of education and level of enterprise are stunted economically because of high unemployment and lack of international investment due to sanctions,” said Awad.

“I think recently there has been a more positive approach to Iran by both the Americans and the Europeans.

“The Europeans are less sceptical and less afraid of Europe being threatened by a nuclear Iran.

It is also now less of a national issue of security for Americans and more of partisan politics with hard-line Republicans being anti-Iran and the Democrats being more in favour of reaching a settlement, explained Awad.

“Israel, meanwhile, is being absolutely hypocritical in its approach to Iran by accusing Tehran of not being transparent in regard to its nuclear ambitions.

“However, Israel has the largest nuclear arsenal in the Middle East. In addition to being the strongest power in the region it is also the most belligerent and aggressive.

“Netanyahu has been using the alleged threat of a nuclear Iran as a way of winning political points, especially with the current Israeli election.

“Israelis tend to vote for far right-wing parties when they feel their security is under threat and Netanyahu is an expert at manipulating this for political vantage.

“The Iranian bogeyman is also a very convenient way of avoiding the issue of peace talks with the Palestinians by fabricating a larger more existential threat from Iran,” said Awad.

“The fact remains that Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad has stated that Iran is not working towards acquiring a nuclear bomb and neither do they want one.

“One should also ask why the proliferation theory should not apply to Israel. Why should Iran feel any less threatened by Israel already possessing over 250 nuclear warheads than Israel feeling threatened by Iran possibly wanting to develop them?

Awad doesn’t believe regional Arab countries want to obtain nuclear bombs but like Iran wants to develop nuclear facilities for domestic purposes.

“Egypt has signed a deal with Russia to build two nuclear reactors and the United Arab Emirates has signed a similar deal with France,” said Awad.

Awad believes that Israel is the main obstacle to a nuclear-free Middle East.

“Even if Iran did have a nuclear bomb it wouldn’t be so stupid as to attack Israel. Israel on the other hand appears to have no real intention of giving up its occupation nor its nuclear weapons and this remains the biggest threat to peace in the region,” Awad told IDN. [IDN-InDepthNews – March 15, 2015]

The writer's previous IDN articles:
http://www.indepthnews.info/index.php/search?searchword=Kalinga%20Seneviratne&ordering=newest&searchphrase=all

Photo: Samir Awad, a doctor of political science, points to a map of Iran saying it is not a threat to a peaceful nuclear free Middle East. Credit: Mel Frykberg

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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