Arab states urge IAEA to slam Israel for atomic arsenal

By Reuters

Haaretz

Elul 28, 5766

Arab states on Wednesday relaunched a campaign to have the United Nations nuclear watchdog condemn Israel's reputed atomic arsenal.

Israel again rebuffed two resolutions in what has become an annual Arab effort to get the International Atomic Energy Agency to press it to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty arms-control pact and help set up a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.

This year's campaign was prompted by the security threats posed by the Israel Defense Forces' operation in Lebanon this past summer, Ibrahim Othman, Syria's atomic energy commission chief said.

"This criminal aggression against Lebanon and Palestine must prompt us today to look at these two [resolutions] seriously, credibly," Othman said in a speech to the IAEA gathering in Vienna.

"The fact [is] Israel is the only country [in the Middle East] with nuclear weapons, and refusing to adhere to the NPT is a matter that undermines peace and security in our area," he said.

Led by Syria, fifteen Arab states including Egypt and Jordan, the only ones with diplomatic links to Israel, urged the 141 IAEA member nations to press Israel in a motion entitled "Israeli nuclear capabilities and threat."

After Egyptian and Syrian envoys to the IAEA's annual meeting said Israel's position bred instability, Israel said such a regional zone was a frivolous idea so long as some neighbors continued not to recognize it.

Israel neither admits nor denies having nuclear weapons and has never signed up to the 40-year-old NPT, but many experts believe it has about 200 atomic bombs.

United States and European Union opposition has thwarted such symbolic moves against Israel at the IAEA in the past.

Unlike recent years, when such statements stalled in committee, the Arab states put a resolution on the plenary agenda this time, and diplomats pointed to heightened resentment for Israel following the Lebanon war.

A decision on the resolution was expected on Friday.

Egypt joined the Arab states' call on the same day that the the son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, seen by many as his potential successor, urged the nation to develop a nuclear program to generate energy.

Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, Cairo's ambassador to the IAEA, said: "The continued imbalance in the Middle East threatens the region and provides legitimacy to an arms race in the region, and Egypt cannot accept this."

Gideon Frank, Israel's atomic energy commission director, said both motions were unwarranted and unrealistic.

He cited "alarming nuclear and missile proliferation developments" in an allusion to Iran, whose leaders openly call for Israel's elimination, and "sustained efforts by certain leaders in the region to deny the very legitimacy" of Israel.

"Frank said in regards to a nuclear weapons-free zone that "Such a noble cause cannot be advanced out of context, [but only with] a fundamental transformation of the regional political-strategic climate through a gradual process of building trust and reconciliation, followed by more modest arms-control measures."