As 2013 approaches it promises to be a year filled with new challenges and obstacles, not excluding those to the Middle East peace process. A major theme of last year’s US presidential elections as well as a contributing factor to the tensions of this year is the threat posed to world peace allegedly by Iran’s nuclear programme. However, on closer inspection we will see that it is not Iran, but rather Israel and the USA which will be the greatest impediment to any kind of peace in the near future.
In the latest release of Wikileaks documents, we are alerted to this fact. A conference in Finland was scheduled to be held in December 2012 for the establishment of a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (MENWFZ). This conference, as well as the motion which was first proposed by the UN General Assembly in 1974, was endorsed by both Iran and Egypt. However, it didn’t take place because Israel refused to attend. Israel also refuses to be a member of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), essentially allowing it to keep its weapons without being under the same scrutiny as members of the NPT. It is also free from the Treaty’s ArticleVI obligation to disarm. In 2004, the IAEA planned to hold a forum to discuss the establishment of a MENWFZ. A cable from the US embassy in Tel Aviv published by WikiLeaks revealed Israel was keen to ensure that the forum would not produce any “concrete deliverables” towards achieving a MENWFZ.
The establishment of a MENWFZ would require Israel to declare and ultimately give up its nuclear arsenal and accordingly, Israel and the US have preferred to focus on the threat allegedly posed by Iran’s nuclear program. As a signatory to the NPT, Iran has a legal right to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Its announcement in 1974 of a plan to build 23 large nuclear reactors was supported by the West. Construction of Iran’s first nuclear power plant at Bushehr was originally contracted to a German firm in 1975. However, after the Iranian revolution ousted the western-backed Shah, support from all the Western allies was withdrawn. It was then that Iran signed a contract with Russia to continue its development. A 2006 cable from the US embassy in Tel Aviv reveals a secret Israeli plan to bribe Russia into delaying construction of the Bushehr plant. The cable reports that Israel told Russia it was “extremely important” to Israel for the work to be delayed. This was not the first time Israel has taken international law into its own hands with regards to other states’ nuclear ambitions. In 1981 Israel attracted international condemnation for the bombing of Iraq’s Osirak research reactor and in 1991 it bombed Dair Alzour in Syria. Israel claimed the latter was a nuclear facility, but this was never proven to be true. So even though US intelligence agencies have repeatedly concluded that Iran is not acquiring nuclear energy for weapons, why does Israel (backed by the US government) insist on antagonising the situation and, essentially, the peace process in the Middle East?
Israeli and the US insist that MENWFZ cannot be negotiated until peace has been realised in the Middle East. Arab states argue that negotiations towards achieving a MENWFZ could play an important role in the peace process, and point to the fact that 21 Arab states signed the NPT. As well as rejecting the NPT, Israel refuses to abide by international law and take the steps necessary towards achieving peace with Palestine. In violation of UN resolutions for over 40 years, Israel has refused to end its military occupation of Palestinian land and withdraw to the internationally recognised 1967 border, doesn’t recognise the right of return of Palestinian refugees, sanctions the building of illegal settlements in Palestinian territory and continues construction of the Israeli West bank barrier, otherwise known as the apartheid wall, which further annexes Palestinian land. Essentially, Israel’s position is that it will not negotiate a MENWFZ until a peace agreement has been concluded with its neighbours, which it is not willing to negotiate either.
Iranian people increasingly suffer over their government’s alleged nuclear ambitions when it is in fact the actions of Israel and its allies which continue to block progress towards a peaceful, nuclear weapons free Middle East.