Last Updated: Sat Nov 03, 2012 08:44 am (KSA) 05:44 am (GMT)

The Middle East and nuclear proliferation

Berıl Dedeoğlu

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has made important declarations to the British media.

According to him, Iran has drawn back from its ambition to develop nuclear weapons for now, but the respite is only temporary.

This means Iran has postponed a serious crisis over the nuclear issue for the time being.

Israel is probably the most concerned country regarding Iran’s nuclear efforts, and that’s why it follows Iran’s every move relating to nuclear proliferation with meticulous attention. However, the delay in Iran’s nuclear program prevents just one of many potential crises concerning Iran. We know, for example, that this country’s efforts to strengthen its influence over Shi’ite populations all over the region also constitute a serious risk of crisis.

Barak says that Iran has decided to suspend its nuclear efforts until next summer, which means that it is expected to resume its activities sooner or later. This also means that the world must be ready for a severe crisis in the Middle East during the summer months. Barak also insists that Israel and its allies will have to seriously consider military action against Iran this summer.

The fact that Iran is acting cautiously right now is related to the presidential election in the United States. Iran probably doesn’t want a crisis that could create support for the Republican candidate. In other words, Iran doesn’t want to radically influence the outcome of the election.

There is something odd here, however. Besides the fact that no one has been able to provide credible proof that the purpose of Iran’s nuclear activities is military, the nation openly threatening other countries is not Iran but Israel. Iran has never declared an intention to hit Israel with nuclear or conventional weapons; it is Israel that frequently speaks of pre-emptive strikes. That’s why it was not Iran’s actions but Israel’s that had the potential to affect the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. There is no doubt that any major international crisis right now would serve Mitt Romney’s interests.

It seems that Iran is determined not to contribute to the alliance between American Republicans and Israel, and it is Barak himself who divulged this information, through British newspapers.

Therefore, we are able to say that negotiations with Iran should be expected this winter. These negotiations are important and necessary, because everyone knows that if Iran indeed acquires nuclear weapons, a nuclear arms race will undoubtedly begin in the Middle East. Some commentators believe that following Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even Turkey will want to develop their own nuclear weapons.

In fact, the most efficient defense against a nuclear country is not to obtain nuclear weapons; this is the best method of deterrence. Besides, as a NATO member, Turkey can’t make the serious decision to develop nuclear weapons on its own. Moreover, if one day Iran threatens Turkey with its nuclear weapons, Turkey will not have to answer to this threat alone. The same can’t be said, however, about Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Barak is more concerned about a crisis between Saudi Arabia and Iran than a crisis between Iran and Turkey.

There is something more, however. We don’t know if Iran will keep its nuclear weapons to itself or give some of them to its regional allies -- for example, to the Syrian regime. If it does, it is certain that Turkey will be quite uncomfortable with this critical strategic move.

Barak’s interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph is very interesting, and every decision-maker in the region should read it carefully. If Iran becomes a nuclear power, a nuclear proliferation race will begin in the region. However, if one wants to achieve lasting peace, one should also ask which country it is that makes Iran want to acquire nuclear weapons as quickly as possible.

(This article was published on Today's Zaman online on Nov. 2, 2012.)

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