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Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East

Teja Palko

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The Middle East is the only region where all three kinds of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) have been used and developed. Accusations, allegations, but unfortunately blur information and data, with very limited open-source information about the possession and quantity of WMD in countries in this region represents further instability factor and creates uncertainty and tensions between rival countries.

There are 17 countries in the region: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Sometimes the political term also includes countries from South Caucasus – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and there exists various definitions which countries belong to the Middle East and which do not. In this report focus is on states which possess WMD. WMD on territory can be found in 6 countries, in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Syria. For the rest of the countries in the Middle East is not known to possess nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs. Globally accepted definition of WMD does not exist, but all include nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Even though all types of WMD are inhumane in its possibilities and consequences of usage, nuclear weapons are the one getting most of the attention. Today in the world more than 30 countries want nuclear power. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) Report for 2013-2014 says that making fuel for nuclear power plants involves the same technology as making materials for nuclear weapons. Actions to reduce proliferation and security risks must be taken to prevent the dangerous spread of uranium enrichment or plutonium technology. The report pointed out that nuclear exchange is less likely, but many scenarios could lead to a catastrophic explosion. Another topic regarding nuclear weapons needs to be taken care of. The fact that today about 2.000 metric tons of weapons-usable nuclear materials remain spread across hundreds of sites around the globe with poor security creates concerns.

Many international arms control agreement have been reached since the existence of nuclear, biological and chemical WMD. With the threat posed by terrorism United Nations Security Resolution 1540/04 was accepted which affirmed that the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery constitute a threat to international peace and security. States are obliged to refrain from supporting by any means non-state actors from developing, acquiring, manufacturing, possessing, transporting, transferring or using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their delivery systems. On nuclear area steps have been made toward non-proliferation with the Partial Test Ban Treaty and prohibition of nuclear testing and the Non-Proliferation Treaty NPT that places restrictions. Important role playsInternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with its 164 Member States which promotes safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear energy. Under the NPT has a role of the international safeguard inspectorate. The use of nuclear weapons violates many international laws such as UN charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Geneva Convention, the Hague Convention and many others. In this segment among many others, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which prohibits all testing of nuclear weapons is important.

Elimination of biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction has shown as a hard task to accomplish. States usually do not publicly announce their stockpiles. Usually information comes from rival countries, public state representatives in speeches or reports and tasks. Verification has been hardly ever available. History has shown that possession of chemical or biological weapons is verified when country has used prohibited means in fighting, usually by international organizations. Most of the time there are speculations. In the field of the biological weapon reduction Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons (BTWC) as a global solution plays an important role. The Treaty prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, or acquisition of biological and toxin weapons, and mandates the elimination of existing weapons, weapons production material and delivery means.

For the third WMD, chemical weapons, Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) – Convention on the prohibition of the development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical weapons and on their Destruction is the important agreement watch over by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Both biological and chemical weapons have been used in the recent past and both arsenals are speculating if even known for most of the countries. Even though they have been used more as nuclear weapons, which were used in in the fighting only in the Second World War, they do not get so much public attention. Next table shows countries in the Middle East, possession of WMD and international obligations and commitments.

Country Nuclear weapon Biological weapon Chemical weapon Signatory NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons)

Signatory CTBT

(Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty)

Signatory CWC (Chemical Weapons Convention) Signatory BTWC (Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons)
Egypt No, only civil use – two nuclear research reactors Yes based on public opinion but no based on verification Suspected for maintaining capabilities Yes No ratification No No ratification
Turkey Host of 60 to 70 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons under NATO No possession No possession Yes Yes Yes Yes
Iran Ambitions to require some Possibility of dual use activities In the past Yes No ratification Yes Yes
Iraq No In the past / possibility of remains In the past/ possibility of remains Yes Yes Yes Yes
Israel Yes Possibly Possibly No No ratification No ratification No
Syrian Arab Republic No Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes

Egypt is one of the four countries that has neither signed nor acceded CWC and Israel is one of the two countries that have yet to ratify it. The NTI country report says that country’s civil nuclear program is relatively sophisticated compared to other countries in the Middle East, but still in development stages. Country signed the BTWC in 1972 but since no ratification has been made speculations about covert possession of biological weapon is presumed. Many western and Israelis report has been made on developing biological weapon, but no concrete evidence has been given so far. They are based on speeches of formal representatives of state without real background. Egypt official stance of not ratifying is concerns of Israelis nuclear weapon arsenal and that country do not possess nor seeks biological weapons. Blur is also an Egyptian chemical weapon arsenal and both poses and no poses are possible. The country had in history used chemical weapons during the 1960s conflict in North Yemen. Allegation of collaborating with Iraq and Syria to boost their chemical weapons has been made in the past. It stays unclear whether the country is still active and has an arsenal of both chemical and biological weapons on their ground.

On the other hand Turkey is also a party to the NPT, BTWC and CWC and is not known to own nuclear, chemical or biological weapons or programs. It peruses civilian nuclear technology. Country is part of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) umbrella and host from 60 to 70 tactical nuclear weapons on its strategically important territory.

Iran has an advanced nuclear program that in Iranian world is peaceful in nature. Even as a member of the NPT it failed to report everything to the IAEA and the possibility of developing all aspects of nuclear fuel cycle has caused international concern and even sanction imposed on the country. Countries stockpile is about 10.000 kg of low enriched uranium. Very little public information to determine whether biological weapons exist is available. Iran ratified the BTWC Convention. It is assumed that it has the capacity to produce biological warfare agents. In a war with Iraq, Iran suffered severe losses because of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. Iran ratified the CWC and has publicly acknowledged the existence of a chemical weapons program, but activities were terminated by the year 1997.

Much has been said about the Iraqi supposedly nuclear program and weapons. The nuclear weapons program was in Iraq dismantled by the IAEA from 1991 to 1997. U.S. and coalition forces began military actions against the country in 2003 based on a possession of nuclear weapons that was never found till this day. The country has extensively used chemical weapons against Iran and its Kurdish population in the past. The program was dismantled, but still last year there were reports that ISIS fighters had taken control over a former chemical weapons facility with sarin. It has also pursued offensive biological weapon capabilities until 1990s.

The only country in the Middle East that has not signed the NPT, which is the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states, is Israel. The Treaty has 190 States parties, including five nuclear-weapon States. Unfortunately, conference on the 22 of May this year ended without a consensus and without a new action plan, among other things also because of discussions around the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and its disagreement. Based on the NTI country report it is widely believed that Israel have produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for 100 to 200 nuclear warheads. It has a nuclear arsenal, but the capacity remains unclear. The country has not made a lot of international bounding commitments in the WMD area since it is not a state party to the CTBT, CWC or BTWC. Israel also remains reluctant to so called Middle East Weapon of Mass Destruction Free Zone. Israel is opposed to every country in the neighborhood that has nuclear ambitions. It believes Iran should be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons and in this order they have carried out a covered operation to stall Iran’s nuclear program with disruption of equipment supply, computer viruses such as Stuxnet and Flame and even the accusation of assassination of Iranian scientists have been made. In the past air strikes against Iraq’s Osiraq Reactor in 1981 and Syria’s suspected reactor near Al-Kibar in 2007 were carried out in order to protect itself in the Arab world. It exists also the possibility that country poses chemical and biological weapons, based on official reports about military training, defensive biological weapon research and education of employees in the military, with advance chemical industry.

A non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT and CWC suspected of nuclear weapons ambitions, now caught in civil war possibly has and did possess WMD. No nuclear or biological weapons in the country seem to exist but chemical does. Syria had in the past refused to renounce its chemical weapons program until Israel abandons its nuclear. The country has an arsenal of chemical weapons, although was dependent on foreign suppliers at the beginning also from Egypt and then with international isolation had development gone further. Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war. Allegations of chemical weapons used in Homs, Damascus and Aleppo caught wider public attention. The chemical weapon program was counter balanced to Israelis conventional warfare and in recent events to fight citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic with agent Sarin. The events lead to international control and commitment of Syria to join the CWC. According to OPCW’s findings the Syrian arsenal includes 1.000 metric tons of Category I chemical weapons, 290 tons of category II chemicals and 1.230 of category III delivery systems. Some speculation still exists about hidden chemical weapons in the country.

Before humanity and society difficult challenges of abolishment, prohibition and controlling of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons lies and waits for the right solution. Is the world going to be better without WMD, can it even be abolished and if not, what can and should we do about it? When the world has a common answer to those questions victims of nuclear, chemical and biological warfare will become a distant past. Until then the danger and uncertainty posed by WMD still lingers.

Teja Palko is a Slovenian writer. She finished studies on Master’s Degree programme in Defense Science at the Faculty of Social Science at University in Ljubljana.

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Middle East

The Khashoggi crisis: Saudi Arabia braces for tougher post-election US attitude

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Saudi Arabia is bracing itself for a potentially more strained relationship with the United States in the wake of Democrats gaining control of the House of Representatives in this week’s mid-term elections and mounting Turkish efforts to corner the kingdom in the Khashoggi crisis.

To counter possible US pressure, the kingdom is exploring opportunities to diversify its arms suppliers and build a domestic defense industry. It is also rallying the wagons at home with financial handouts and new development projects in a bid to bolster domestic support for crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Democrats’ election victory has strengthened Saudi concerns that the Trump administration may pressure the kingdom to back down on key issues like the Yemen war that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two and the 17-month old Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar.

US officials have argued that Saudi policies complicate their efforts to isolate and economically cripple Iran.

The officials assert that the boycott of Qatar and the fallout of the October 2 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul constitute obstacles to the creation of a Sunni Muslim alliance against the Islamic republic, dubbed an Arab NATO, as well as the achievement of other US goals in the Middle East, including countering political violence and ensuring the free flow of oil.

Going a step further, senior Israelis say they have given up on the notion of a Sunni Muslim alliance whose interests would be aligned with those of the Jewish state and see their budding relations with Gulf states increasingly in transactional terms.

The Trump administration signalled its concerns even before the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

“Our regional partners are increasingly competing and, in the case of the Qatar rift, entering into outright competition to the detriment of American interests and to the benefit of Iran, Russia and China,” National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in a letter late summer, according to Reuters.

With the House expected to be tougher on arms sales to the kingdom and possibly go as far as imposing an arms embargo because of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen caused by Saudi and UAE military operations, Saudi Arabia has wasted no time in casting around for alternative weapons suppliers.

In apparent recognition that the Saudi military, reliant on US and European arms acquisitions, would find it difficult to quickly shift to Russian or Chinese systems, Saudi Arabia appears for now to be focussing on alternative Western suppliers.

That could prove to be risky with anti-Saudi sentiment because of the Yemen war also running high in European parliaments and countries like Spain and Germany either teetering on the brink of sanctions or having toyed with restrictions on weapons sales to the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia, nonetheless, has in recent days contracted Spanish shipbuilder Navantia to jointly build five corvettes for the Saudi navy and offered South African state-owned defense group Denel $1 billion to help the kingdom build a domestic defense industry.

The partnership with Denel would involve Saudi Arabia taking a minority stake in German defense contractor Rheinmetall, which designs armoured fighting vehicles and howitzers.

With sale of the US-made precision-guided munitions bogged down in Congress, Spain has stepped in to address Saudi Arabia’s immediate need. The question is however whether Spain can fully meet Saudi demand.

A US refusal already before the Gulf crisis and the Khashoggi incident to share with Saudi Arabia its most advanced drone technology, paved the way for Chinese agreement to open its first overseas defense production facility in the kingdom.

State-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) will manufacture its CH-4 Caihong, or Rainbow drone, as well as associated equipment in Saudi Arabia. The CH-4 is comparable to the US armed MQ-9 Reaper drone.

Saudi Arabia also fears that Democratic control of the House could strengthen opposition to a nuclear energy agreement with the kingdom. Five Republican senators called on President Donald J. Trump days before the mid-term election to suspend talks with Saudi Arabia.

Development of a defense industry would over time serve Prince Mohammed’s efforts to diversify the Saudi economy and create jobs.

So would  King Salman’s inauguration this week of 259 development projects worth US$6.13 billion ranging from tourism, electricity, environment, water, agriculture, housing, and transport to energy.  King Salman launched the projects during a curtailed visit to Saudi provinces designed to bolster support for his regime as well as his son, Prince Mohammed

On the other hand, the government’s most recent decision to restore annual bonuses and allowances for civil servants and military personnel without linking them to performance constitutes an attempt to curry public favour that runs contrary to Prince Mohammed’s intention to streamline the bureaucracy and stimulate competition.

Bonuses were cut in 2016 as part of austerity measures. They were restored last year and linked in May to job performance.

In a further populist move, King Salman also pardoned prisoners serving time on financial charges and promised to pay the debts up to US$267,000 of each one of them.

King Salman’s moves appear designed to lessen Saudi dependence on US arms sales and project a united front against any attempt to implicate Prince Mohammed in the death of Mr. Khashoggi.

The moves come as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists that the order to kill the journalist came “from the highest levels of the Saudi government” and the Trump administration demands Saudi action against the perpetrators and those responsible for the murder.

Failure to be seen to be taking credible action may not undermine King Salman’s rallying of the wagons at home but will do little to weaken calls in Washington as well as European capitals for tougher action in a bid to force Saudi Arabia to come clean on the Khashoggi case and adopt a more conciliatory approach towards ending the Yemen war and resolving the Gulf crisis.

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Middle East

The murder of Khashoggi and a start for the project of passing from Saudi Arabia

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Khashoggi murder and its widespread reflection throughout the world has hit Saudi Arabia to one of the toughest crises in its contemporary history. Of course, this is not the first time the Al Saud regime has committed a crime against its opponents, but in the last cases Western countries usually hide the regime’s anti-humanitarian actions because of their dependence on Saudi Arabia oil, or their Billions dollar sale of weapons or generous offers of the ruling regime and considered them as minor. However, the review of the European approach to the ban on the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia or the boycott of the Saudi investment conference by the world’s largest companies and even Trump ambiguous statements in this regard and the emphasis on the immediate ceasefire in Yemen suggests that a new process is emerging, the process that can be considered as a start for the project of passing from Saudi Arabia. In fact, it seems that oil and the lucrative Al Saud consumption market are no longer attractive to Western countries, and the murder of the Khashoggi also provided an excuse to end the alliance with one of the most reactionary and barbaric governments in the world.

Various analyzes have been made on the future of US-Saudi relations. In this regard, a group of experts believe that the only reason that the United States supports the Saudi government is oil and ensuring energy flow to the largest economy in the world. Meanwhile, with shale oil production and US self-sufficiency in oil production, there remains practically no reason to support Saudi Arabia and Tramp’s remarks on Saudi Arabia’s obligation to pay for their security costs precisely means that the U.S. should not jeopardize more the credibility and interests of the United States for such a costly alliance.

Referring to the Great Middle East Plan and the need to break up the powers of the region into smaller countries, the experts believe that the United States should provide the necessary ground for the balkanization of the region as soon as possible by cutting back from Saudi Arabia.

The scenarios that western thinkers have drawn for the future of West Asia over the period 2010 to 2020 are based on this region, along with China and Russia, should be submerged in insecurity and civil wars, and finally, out of the ashes of war provide ground for the consolidation of the US global empire and the realization of its desired new order as well as security of Israel, and interestingly, the emergence of ISIS, either wittingly or unwittingly, served most to realize this American scenario.

Under this plan, all countries in the region should be divided into smaller countries based on linguistic, ethnic, religious, and racial divisions and there are no exceptions in this area even for close allies. Therefore, although the use of Saudi leverage to curb Iran’s power in the region is necessary, but ultimately this regime, just like Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan and other countries of the region, also must be fragmented without any consideration so that by formation of small, bankrupt and weak states virtually Israel emerges as the most powerful actor in the West Asia.

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Arab NATO against Iran, an unfulfilled dream

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Washington will face defeat in the formation of a united Arab front against Iran, as Arab states are still struggling with many regional and domestic challenges and Iran will remain a strong actor in the region.

The largest military drill- land, naval, air and special forces kicked off in Egypt on Sunday with participation of the US, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Jordan, and the observers Morocco and Lebanon.

The drill is held at the Mohamed Naguib Military Base in Egypt’s north-western governorate of Marsa Matrouh until November 16.

The exercise, dubbed Arab Shield 1, claims to come in the framework of strengthening joint military cooperation between Egypt and Arab countries, to build the combat capabilities of the armed forces, and achieve common objectives.

This is a military campaign that has long been the subject of talks and statements from the rise of the Arab NATO. Interestingly, Qatar and Oman did not participate in this exercise, and the location of the drill, shows that Egypt, with the largest Arab army is likely to be the headquarters of the Arab NATO.

The objective of this NATO surely is not to confront the Zionist regime, since the Arab states are moving towards normalization of their relations with Tel Aviv, which has intensified recently. In fact, the US government seeks to end the step-by-step implementation of the century deal and unveil it in the latest plan to form a new security and military order in the region. Hence, the ultimate goal of this military-security organization is to confront opposition of the new order, and at the head of them lay Iran, and the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance forces.

The military exercise comes only a month after the meeting of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with the foreign ministers of Arab states in New York. Earlier, Persian Gulf military commanders held a meeting in Kuwait at the invitation of US military commanders in the region.

US President Donald Trump’s government is pursuing to launch a so-called Arabic version of the NATO coalition to confront Iran by putting subtle pressure on the Persian Gulf Arab States along with Egypt and Jordan. Of course, this coalition will be formed partly under the name of the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), but it is also known as the Arab NATO. Bahrain’s foreign minister said on Saturday at the IISS Manama Dialogue, the annual Middle East’s security summit, that the coalition would be formed by the start of the New Year, a claim that many analysts are skeptical of.

The Arab NATO is a transformed plan that was first initiated at the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), an initiative launched during NATO’s 2004 Istanbul summit. The plan was to expand NATO to the Persian Gulf region. Proposed by Ahmed al-Sabah and approved by NATO Secretary General, the NATO office was launched in Kuwait in 2011.
The plan, however, has seen a few changes since:

Removal of Turkey and Qatar, Arab NATO will continue to work independently of the NATO, Expansion of the Arab NATO from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea, particularly to Egypt, has the US support, counters Iran’s influence in the Middle East region, and coordination of operational intelligence with Israel.

The ICC is an offer to engage in practical security cooperation activities with states throughout the Greater Middle East. The initiative offers practical cooperation with interested nations in the Greater Middle East in such areas as: The ICC counter-WMD; counterterrorism; training and education; participation in NATO exercises; promoting military interoperability; disaster preparedness and civil emergency planning; tailored advice on defense reform and civil-military relations; cooperation on border security to help prevent illicit trafficking of drugs, weapons, and people.

In fact, NATO seeks to confront new threats, including Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism, and so on, to ensure the security of regional partners, prevent the non-proliferation regime gaining access to nuclear weapons, ensure the sources of energy and its transit lines, and provide a model of regional order with regional countries except Iran and Iraq.
The plan to form a new regional coalition was supposed to reach a very large circle, and the Arab NATO was going to confront the so-called hostile regional forces, but following the crisis between Qatar and Arab states in the Persian Gulf region in June 2017, it seems the coalition cannot stand united against Iran.

Many analysts believe that formation of the coalition will be postponed to 2019, particularly now that the Saudis are grappling with Jamal Khashoggi’s murder case in their consulate in Istanbul.

Perhaps the US is waiting to observe the impact of its political and economic sanctions on Iran prior to joining the regional coalition against Iran so are the Arab states in the region.

In addition, the Arab countries need more time to form this coalition, as they are struggling with many challenges in the political and military arena of the region, including Qatar’s crisis, the Yemeni War, Jamal Khashoggi’s case, and Arab differences in regional issues, especially over Palestine.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt have different interpretation of terrorism. While Saudi Arabia cooperates with the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen and Syria, Egypt considers the Sunni Islamist organization a terrorist group. Saudi Arabia and Qatar also hold different views over the organization.

Iran’s influence in Arab countries, including Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, creates further obstacles to the formation of the coalition. According to reports, Trump is scheduled to hold a meeting in Washington, where he will announce the launch of the regional coalition.

The US has placed a number of conditions on the Arab countries, including the need to fulfill Saudi military objectives in Yemen and the withdrawal of the strategic harbor of al-Hudaydah and reconciliation with Qatar.

Amidst all these, Trump is seeking an opportunity to announce the so called the “deal of the century” to resolve the issue of Palestine, and for that Arab countries need to have an integrated stance.

The other side of the deal is Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran is, too, promoting its position in the region by strengthening its strategic alliance.

Thus, Washington will face defeat in the formation of a united Arab front against Iran, as Arab states are still struggling with many regional and domestic challenges and Iran will remain a strong actor in the region.

First published in our partner MNA

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