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Middle East—Iran and Israel



War against Iraq.
On 19 March 2003 US-led military forces attacked Iraq after numerous failed attempts by the US to persuade the UN Security Council to authorize the use of forces against Iraq if it failed to meet its disarmament obligations. UN Resolution 1441 sought full Iraqi disarmament and increased inspections by IAEA officials. The resolution mentioned the possibility of an appropriate response of those goals were not met, but did not specify military action. On 7 March 2003, the USA, UK, and Spain put forward a draft Security Council resolution demanding that Iraq prove itself to be in full compliance with in Resolution 1441 by 17 March. On 17 March, US President George W Bush gave Iraq one final 48-hour ultimatum, requiring Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or face death in war. Forty-eight hours later coalition forces began air attacks. As of 30 March 2003 reports began to appear that the US forces in Iraq had not found evidence of the alleged weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi insurgencies against the US-led coalition continued into 2005 despite the capture of Saddam Hussein on 13 December 2003.

Iranian Nuclear Activity.
At the beginning of the 2003, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami declared that Iran would begin developing nuclear technology, but for peaceful uses only. By 6 June 2003, however, an IAEA report revealed that Iran had failed to meet its NPT obligations concerning the reporting of its nuclear materials and how they are used. Immediately concerns arose in the IAEA and its member States, which led to demands for increased monitoring of Iran’s facilities and growing tension between Iran and the international community. Traces of highly enriched uranium and plutonium were found at plants in Iran, but the Iranian government claimed the samples were left on the equipment by its previous owners. The USA refused to believe the Iranian claims and requested that the UN Security Council enforce sanctions that would demand total Iranian cooperation with IAEA inspections or threaten the use of military force. Most members of the IAEA Board of Governors opposed the US proposals and supported further talks with Iran, which eventually agreed to sign the additional protocol to the NPT, allowing for more intensive inspections. The IAEA set a 31 October deadline for Iran to disclose details of nuclear-weapon related activity and temporarily suspend the production of enriched uranium. Iran met those demands eight days in advance, and on 18 December it signed the additional IAEA protocol, allowing for more intrusive inspections.

Introduction. This section covers nuclear weapon-related developments in the Middle East. It includes nuclear-related activities in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Kuwait. The main goal in the region is the establishment of a Middle East Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (MENWFZ).


Delineation of the zone. The UN General Assembly resolutions do not define a MENWFZ. Egypt has said “all concerned parties should belong to the region, and [it] should comprise, as a minimum, the Arab States, Israel, and Iran” {A/40/442 28.7.85}. A 1990 UN study suggested that the zone begin by extending to Libya in the west, but eventually encompass the countries suggested by Egypt {10.10.90}. The generally accepted formula now is: all members of the League of Arab States plus Iran and Israel (see list below).


Arms Control and Regional Security. As one of five working groups formed after the 1991 Gulf War to aid the effort to create peace in the Middle East, ACRS accomplished several tasks between 1992 and 1995. It created a framework for a regional security network similar to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); completed a text on Prevention of Incidents at Sea and another on maritime search and rescue; put together a draft statement on arms control and regional security; and discussed a regional security center. The process broke down in 1995 due to Egypt’s dissatisfaction with its direction and remained in limbo for several years. A meeting in Moscow in 2000 attended by Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority called for early resumption of the ACRS process {2.2.00}.
The United States has sponsored a number of bilateral training programs for officials and diplomats in anticipation of the resumption of talks. Among other topics, the training programs focused on arms control, verification techniques, and multilateral diplomacy. {Reporter discussion with US official 7.12.98}

Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Middle East. Israel and Jordan, in their peace agreement of 26 October 1994, agreed to create a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Middle East {ACR 453aMEN96}, which would serve as a coordinator for donations and pledges. The conference consisted of a consultative group led by the World Bank and an ad hoc liaison committee permanently chaired by Norway. The 1998 conference raised over three billion dollars in pledges. {Arms Control Reporter discussion with US official 8.12.98}

UN. The United Nations General Assembly annually passes a resolution favoring the MENWFZ. In 2002, as in past years, the General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Israel to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and place its unsafeguarded nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. A second UNGA resolution called for the establishment of a MENWFZ. {ACR 453bMEN02 22.11.02} The UN Disarmament Committee’s Working Group I discussed the Middle East NWFZ as part of its general discussion of NWFZs in the late 1990s. In the debate, Arab states charged Israel with blocking negotiations on the zone. Israel blamed the unsettled state of the region for its policy {21.4-13.5.97}. In 1998, the Disarmament Committee discussed the establishment of the MENWFZ. {8.4.98} In 1999, the working group endorsed a MENWFZ {12-30.4.99}.

IAEA. The General Conference annually calls for full-scope safeguards on all nuclear activities in the Middle East, labeling that step a precursor to the establishment of a NWFZ. As stated previously, during 2003 the IAEA has been a part of increased investigations in both Iran and Iraq.

NPT. In 1998 and 1999, the MENWFZ was discussed and supported by most participants at NPT PrepComs. The Final Document adopted by the 2000 NPT Review Conference endorsed the Resolution on the Middle East adopted by the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference and called for a MENWFZ {24.4-19.5.00}.

WMD-free-zone. In 1990, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak proposed a ban on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons throughout the Middle East. The 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference and the 2000 NPT Review Conference echoed this call. Many Middle East countries have ratified the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), signed or ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and ratified the NPT (see table below). Egypt would like Arab countries not to sign the CWC until Israel signs the NPT. The Arab League met in Cairo on 22 June 1998 to discuss a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. The League’s technical committee has worked on a draft treaty on a Middle East WMD-free zone {4.7.00}.

Export control efforts. The United States and its allies believe that Libya, Iran, and Iraq seek nuclear weapons despite their ratification of the NPT. Therefore, they have enacted national export controls to prevent the import by these states of various WMD-related and dual-use materials.

Bilateral peace processes. Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979. The 1991 peace process, initiated in Madrid, was intended to lead to bilateral talks between Israel and the PLO, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, respectively. The status of the bilateral peace tracks is as follows:

Israel and the PLO signed the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements in Oslo on 13 September 1993. A second agreement, the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, was signed on 28 September 1995. The 1998 Wye River summit in Maryland produced an agreement that allowed permanent status negotiations to begin. Israel and the Palestinian Authority began final status negotiations in 1999, aimed at reaching an agreement by September 2000. This deadline has passed without an agreement.

Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement on 26 October 1994.

Israel and Lebanon No treaty, no negotiations.

Israel and Syria A draft peace agreement exists, but in recent years Syrian-Israeli talks have not made any progress.


Algeria has a research reactor acquired from Argentina and a larger (10–15 MW) plant at Ain Oussera supplied by China. Both reactors were placed under IAEA safeguards.

Egypt has two research reactors. It stated that it would build or acquire nuclear weapons if it felt the need {14.10.98}. Egypt refuses to join the CWC unless Israel joins the NPT {1.12.96}. Egypt annually introduces resolutions in the UNGA calling for the establishment of a MENWFZ {453bMeEN02 22.11}.

Iran claims that it does not yet have either a nuclear weapon or a fuel cycle capable of producing one, but it is developing full fuel cycle facilities which, when complete, could provide a nuclear weapon capability in a relatively short period of time. Plutonium and enriched uranium have been discovered at these sites. Russia is building a nuclear power plant at Bushehr despite strong US opposition, including a ban on trade with Iran and the imposition of sanctions on Russian entities aiding Iran. China suspended its agreement to supply two reactors and a conversion facility to Iran in 1996. As part of an agreement with the United States, China pledged to end its nuclear cooperation with Iran. In 1998, China renewed its pledge not to aid Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
In late 2002, it was revealed that Iran was building a large gas centrifuge facility for uranium enrichment. Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful, intended to meet energy needs as oil supplies begin to dwindle over the next two decades; and it invited the IAEA to inspect the new enrichment facility in early 2003 {ACR 453e4MEN02 12.12}.
Iran supports a NWFZ in the Middle East, has offered to support permanent international inspectors at some of its nuclear facilities, and has reiterated its full commitment to the NPT and IAEA safeguards. It also favors a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. In 1999, unconfirmed reports spoke of Iran seeking an arms control dialogue with Israel through British intermediaries. Iranian proposals reportedly covered agreements on no first use, limiting the use of long-range missiles, and not arming ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. Iran and Russia also agreed to increase cooperation in disarmament and export controls.

Iraq is currently occupied with US-led coalition forces searching for weapons of mass destruction and trying to instill the foundations for democracy. Reports from the IAEA inspectors, however, continue to state that no significant evidence of weapons of mass destruction has been found in Iraq.

Israel is known to have nuclear weapons, although the Israeli government has not officially confirmed this. Israel has not signed the NPT; it favors a NWFZ, but only as the last step in a larger Middle East peace process. In 1998 Israel reviewed its policy of ambiguity on nuclear weapon possession, but no policy change occurred. In 1998, Israel reversed its earlier opposition to negotiations in the CD on a ban on production of fissile material, allowing an ad hoc committee to be established.

Jordan has contemplated building a nuclear reactor.

Libya has abandoned its nuclear weapon program. In late 2003, Libya freely decided to abandon its programs for creating weapons of mass destruction, accept the immediate international monitoring of its facilities, limit its missiles in compliance with the standards of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), negotiate a new inspection agreement with the IAEA, and provide guarantees on biological weapons. All components of the Libyan nuclear weapon program had been identified by US inspectors and shipped back to the United States for further study by March 2004.

Saudi Arabia was accused by a Saudi defector (formerly a UN diplomat) in 1994 of developing a secret nuclear weapon program in cooperation with China and Iraq. The Saudi Defense Minister’s visit to Pakistan’s nuclear and missile facilities in 1999 raised concerns abroad.

Syria has no nuclear weapons, and no program to obtain them. Syria signed a 10-year nuclear-power cooperation agreement with Russia in 1999.

The United States would support a NWFZ in the Middle East “in the context of a comprehensive peace agreement” in the region {16.3.00}. It maintains that any initiative for a NWFZ must meet its seven criteria for a nuclear free zone:
1. The initiative for creating the zone should come from the states in the region.
2. All states whose participation is deemed important should participate.
3. The zone arrangement should provide adequate verification of compliance.
4. The creation of the zone should not disturb existing security arrangements to the detriment of regional or international security or otherwise abridge the right of individual or collective self-defense guaranteed in the UN Charter.
5. The zone arrangement should effectively prohibit its parties from developing or otherwise possessing any nuclear device, for whatever purpose.
6. The establishment of the zone should not affect the existing rights of its parties under international law to grant or deny to other states transit privileges within their respective land territory, internal waters, and air space. The parties may grant access, including port calls and overflights, to the nuclear-powered and nuclear-capable ships and aircraft of non-party states.
7. The zone arrangement should not seek to impose restrictions on the exercise of rights that are recognized under international law, particularly the high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight, the right of innocent passage of territorial
and archipelagic seas, the right of transit passage of international straits, and the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage of archipelagic waters {State Department briefing 8.12.95}.

(See “Delineation of zone” above)
Dates indicate year of ratification; S means signed but not yet ratified.
Country NPT BWC CWC Nuclear Program Comment
Algeria 1995 2001 1995 Two safeguarded reactors.
Bahrain 1988 1988 1997 -
Comoros 1995 - S -
Djibouti 1996 - S -
Egypt 1981 S - Two research reactors.
Iran 1970 1973 1997 Uranium enrichment facility.
Iraq 1969 1991 - Weapon programs dismantled.
Israel - - S Non-declared NWS.
Jordan 1970 1975 1997 -
Kuwait 1989 1972 1997 -
Lebanon 1970 1975 - -
Libya 1975 1982 2004 One research reactor.
Mauritania 1993 - 1998 -
Morocco 1970 2002 1995 -
Oman 1997 1992 1995 -
Palestine* - - - -
Qatar 1989 1975 1997 -
S. Arabia 1988 1972 1996 -
Somalia 1970 S - -
Sudan 1973 2003 1999 -
Syria 1968 S - -
Tunisia 1970 1973 1997 -
UAE 1995 S 2000 -
Yemen 1979 1979 2000 -
*Does not exist as a state yet.

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