Saudi Arabia's foreign
minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, was quick to tell reporters
after the closing session that the group did not want to be
"misunderstood," saying its aim "is to obtain
the technology for peaceful purposes, no more no less."
However, the Arab nations in the region, have expressed worry
over the disputed Iranian nuclear program, which is the focus
of a standoff with the West over Tehran's refusal to suspend
uranium enrichment. In fact, Iran's first reactor — being
built in Bushehr just across the gulf from Kuwait and the eastern
coast of Saudi Arabia — is projected to begin operating
in late 2007. Arab analysts have urged their leaders sending
a "clear, strong and courageous" message to Iran that
the GCC nations will not sit and watch while Iran presses forward
with its nuclear program.
For example, Egypt – one of the more serious potential
proliferators – is undoubtedly most troubled by the prospect
of Iran becoming a nuclear state and has begun to voice its
concerns more openly than in the past.
In March 2004, US and British intelligence officials reported
on evidence found that Libya traded nuclear and missile expertise
with Egypt. It appeared that Egypt could been using Libya as
a way-station for obtaining nuclear and missile technology and
components from North Korea. Earlier, in 2002, Egypt denied
US allegations that Cairo was conducting secret missile and
WMD trade with Libya. The allegations were based on CIA satellite
photographs. In January 2005, the head of Mossad, Meir Dagan,
warned the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, that
there were indications on several Middle East states other than
Iran - including Egypt and Syria - working at varying stages
in development of indigenous nuclear programs.
Days after, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy expressed fears
that Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia might have acquired some
kind of nuclear capability via an illicit weapons trafficking
network run by Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the chief architect of
Pakistan's nuclear bomb. Israeli military sources recently told
The Jerusalem Post that, thanks to Khan, one of those three
Arab states now has the potential to achieve a "significant
United States officials have expressed concern about reports
that Egypt has a secret uranium research program supporting
further investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA). Indeed, the UN nuclear agency also claimed in its recent
report, that Egypt might have conducted secret nuclear experiments
in violation of international non-proliferation treaties.
When experts from the United States and the International Atomic
Energy Agency ( IAEA) came upon blueprints for a 10-kiloton
atomic bomb in the files of the Libyan weapons program, they
discovered some disturbing documents, pertaining to so far suspected,
but not proven intelligence rumors. These documents also confirmed
U.S. suspicions of secret trade between Cairo and Tripoli in
strategic weapons obtained from North Korea.
On the evidence found the experts gained new appreciation on
the audacity of the rogue nuclear network led by the notorious
Pakistani nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan. Intelligence
officials had watched Dr. Khan for years and suspected that
he was trafficking in machinery for enriching uranium to make
fuel for warheads.
Among documents seized in Libya, Investigators learned, that
Dr Khan had traveled extensively throughout the Middle East
and among others, secretly visited Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt,
on what they believed were business trips, either to buy materials
like uranium ore or even sell atomic goods.
American intelligence officials had Dr. Khan under surveillance
for nearly three decades, since he began assembling components
for Pakistan's bomb, but apparently had missed some of his crucial
transactions and secret negotiations in the Middle East.
Egypt's own nuclear program is a delicate balance of championing
nuclear nonproliferation in the Middle East, developing civilian
nuclear industry to address its economic and electricity needs,
while at the same time seeking some guarantee of security against
the Israeli nuclear threat.
At the core of Egypt's nuclear program is the Inshas Nuclear
Research Center in Cairo. Inshas hosts a 2-megawatt, Soviet-supplied
research reactor that started in 1961 and runs on ten-percent-enriched
uranium fuel. The reactor was shut down for renovation during
the 1980s, but started up again in 1990. In 1992, Egypt had
signed a contract with Invap, Argentina's leading nuclear organization,
to build a 22-megawatt research reactor at Inshas. According
to statements by an official at Argentina's embassy in Washington,
DC, construction began in March 1993.
Egypt's Nuclear Materials Authority has directed uranium exploration
to concentrate on four areas in the eastern desert: Gabal Gattar,
El Missikat, El Erediya and Um Ara. A new uranium-bearing area,
Gabal Kadabora, has been discovered in the central eastern desert
and is now under evaluation
Egypt has not in the past and does not presently appear to
be aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons, however a recent increase
in calls by military officers, government officials, and scholars
to develop an Arab deterrent to Israel signals a growing frustration
with what it perceives to be the international community's double
standard regarding nuclear proliferation in the region. Unfortunately,
this trend may receive new impetus following PM Olmert's unexplained
gaffe this week.
Statements already made by high-level Egyptian officials and
various media reports have overwhelmingly target Israel as Egypt's
major concern in the nuclear realm. However, embedded in these
latest statements, are clear hints of Egypt's broader regional
considerations, which make its agenda on nuclear issues much
more varied and complex. Egypt is particularly concerned how
nuclear development and potential proliferators and especially
a shiite dominated nuclear Iran could have impact on Egypt's
own regional prominence.
Looking at what has happened more recently with India and Pakistan
since they became declared nuclear states, Egypt could conclude
that implications of going nuclear in the future might not be
that serious, especially in light of American-Pakistani cooperation
since September 11. In this context, Egypt will most likely
be very interested in U.S. policy toward North Korea and its
so far incapable dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Thus it is not surprising that President Hosni Mubarak called
recently for Egypt to pursue a peaceful nuclear energy program.
Mubarak echoed a call made earlier by his 42 year old son, Gamal,
who many in Egypt believe is being groomed to succeed his father
at the helm. The proposal raised eyebrows, which analysts saw
as a jab at the United States, which, while still locked in
a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program, may lately
be wavering in its firm stance. Middle East experts and analysts
point to the timing of these announcements – coinciding
with western concerns that Iran’s nuclear program may
prompt an arms race in the Middle East – as a sign of
their potentially broader regional significance.
Read David Eshel's past commentary here