The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies
The Emerging Arab Response to Iran’s Unabated Nuclear Program
Egypt's September announcement that it will revive its dormant nuclear program and embark on acquiring significant nuclear technology coupled with similar statements from Morocco, Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments appear to be in response to Iran's budding nuclear program and the inability of the international community to stop it. Although Iran currently does not possess nuclear weapons, for the better part of two decades it has secretly pursued the ability to master technologies such as uranium enrichment that could potentially be used in nuclear weapons. In January 2004, details of Iran's successful procurement of enrichment technology and nuclear know-how from A.Q. Khan and his international nuclear black market ring became public. While Iran remains a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it has openly flaunted its obligations and responsibilities therein, reiterated by the Secretariat of the International Atomic Energy Agency concluding in November 2004 that Iran had "failed…to meet its obligations under its safeguards agreement. As of spring 2005, there was no evidence that Iran possesses enough fissile material to produce nuclear weapons or possessed a nuclear device." In August of the same year, Iran rejected a European proposal that offered in exchange for permanently abandoning its nuclear activities, economic, technological, security and political incentives and just months later on 24 September 2005 the IAEA Board of Governors' resolution on Iran found Tehran to be in non-compliance with the NPT. The UN Security Council then demanded that Iran suspend all enrichment-related activities and resolve all outstanding questions revolving around its nuclear program within 30 days. Iran not only rejected the call but also announced soon thereafter that it had achieved a new stage of uranium enrichment, and planned to expand its activities to an industrial scale at its Natanz facility. Most recently in August 2006, Iran turned down a more extensive package of incentives from Germany, Britain, France, Russia, China and the United States and insisted on maintaining its conversion and enrichment technology.
Despite copious amounts of evidence pointing to illicit intentions on the part of Iran, it is important to note that the IAEA, the primary investigative body charged with determining the purpose of the nuclear research program in Iran, has not found any conclusive evidence that corroborates the many and varied allegations made by American and other Western officials. Beyond several suspicious dual-use items that have been found in and around Iran's nuclear facilities, no definitive evidence has been found to disprove Iran's use of nuclear energy for solely peaceful purposes. The failure of the international community to hinder Iran's nuclear progress since 2003 has required leading moderate Arab governments to embark on nuclear journeys to acquire a deterrent to Iran's immerging nuclear capability. Moderate Arab leaders worry that an unabated Iranian nuclear program will empower Iran with a nuclear weapon that will enable it to become the prominent military power in the region following Israel. These Arab leaders have become increasingly uncomfortable with their future position as lagging behind Israel and Iran in a region where Arabs make up the overwhelming demographic majority.
In addition to the sincere Arab desire to acquire a deterrent to forthcoming Iranian nuclear military capability, recent events in the Middle East including the wars in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Areas has portrayed Arab leadership in the eyes of their constituents as weak and incompetent and mere followers of American policy in the region. This perception of Arab leadership weakness and culpability has resulted in unprecedented severe criticism of Arab leadership by Arab citizens, Arab media and Arab intellectuals, which has motivated some Arab leaders to publicly discuss plans of nuclear acquisition to restore the appearance of strength and independence. Equally important, Arab leaders wish to emulate unbendable Iranian behavior which thus far has gained the Iranian leadership popularity at home; increased influence in the region, and most importantly increased international concessions and tacit recognition of Iran's "inalienable rights" for nuclear technology.
Egypt's nuclear program, since its formal entry into the nuclear field in 1955 with the creation of the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority (AEA), has been mostly benign and largely motivated by peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Aware of its military potential, Egypt's nuclear forefathers sought to gain the economic benefits that could be incurred by, at the time, a new and promising technology. For 40 years, Egypt maintained the status quo in its nuclear endeavors until 1997, when it began deliberating over the purchase of a large nuclear reactor, a goal that has yet to be realized. In contrast with Egyptian nuclear advances is the country's traditional leadership role that it has maintained in its steadfast support for a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) in the region. Egypt's diplomatic campaign has been ongoing and small successes have been achieved. Perhaps one of the most momentous occasions was at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference when Egypt agreed not to block a consensus to make the NPT permanent in exchange for the adoption of a resolution calling for efforts to make the Middle East a region free of all weapons of mass destruction. Irrespective of this fact however, Egypt's nuclear program has been advancing with the completed construction at the Inshas site of an Argentine supplied, 22-megawatt light-water research reactor and even and more recently with the signing of nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia (April 2001), South Korea (August 2001), and China (January 2002). To fully grasp Egypt's current nuclear status it is worth mentioning the announcement made by the IAEA on 4 January 2005 that evidence of nuclear experiments to develop a nuclear weapon have been found and particles of actinides[and fission products were discovered near a nuclear facility, all of which were determined to be indicative of work on plutonium separation. While the investigation carried out by the IAEA determined that the work was not of an illegal nature, it did raise many questions about Egypt's intentions and its failure to declare the work to the IAEA, obligatory under the 1982 Safeguards agreement. Further questioning surrounds Egypt's nuclear infrastructure, capacities, and undetermined activities relating to nuclear weapon development and whether such behavior could possibly be outside the realm of Egypt's commonly accepted nuclear status quo. With much left unknown as to whether this evidence points to a clandestine nuclear weapons program or the more commonly accepted theory that the evidence was a result of a byproduct of peaceful research, in any case, Egypt has a substantial research infrastructure under the auspices of the AEA, where it conducts research and experiments on mining, ore composition, fuel fabrication, irradiation, reactor science and waste management. Most of the AEA activities are undertaken by over 850 scientists with support from some 650 engineers and technical staff at two research centers at Inshas: the Nuclear Research Center (NRC), and the Hot Laboratories and Waste Management Center (HLWMC).
Saudi Arabia has a well-known and acknowledged policy that is, in principle, against nuclear weapons. Its official position, given its behavior over the past five decades, is to refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons and from helping other countries to do so, and to promote a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East- a goal not easily achieved given Israel's opaque nuclear policy. Furthermore, it appears that it would be an insurmountable task to develop an indigenous nuclear weapons program and it would surely encounter formidable opposition if it were to attempt to purchase weapons capability from an outside source. No credible evidence has surfaced that points to Saudi Arabia's intention to acquire or manufacture a nuclear weapon, moreover, military experts who have in-depth knowledge on Saudi armed forces and defense policies have declared that nuclear weapons are not on the Kingdom's strategic agenda. Most believe that Saudi Arabia, despite its largess and massive wealth, cannot afford the nuclear option and has no real strategic need for it. As there is an abundance of crude oil and natural gas, energy in the form of nuclear power does not seem a plausible economically sensible option for seeking energy security.
The paradigm shift that has taken place the last few years between the Kingdom and the United States necessitates a closer look in Saudi intentions to either formulate a weapons program or to possibly acquire one of its own. Given the mounting tensions in the region and the considerable levels of instability, speculation points towards the possibility that the Saudis might feel the need, given present-day circumstances, to develop a nuclear response capability over which they have complete control, irrespective of their NPT obligations and longtime security relationship with the United States. In February 2006, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal criticized Iran's uranium enrichment program during a speech in Washington D.C. highlighting the possibility that the enriched uranium fuel could be used for nuclear weapons. He asked, "Where is Iran going to use these weapons? If their intention is to bomb Israel, they will kill Palestinians, Syrians, Jordanians, and Saudis, as well." Moreover, journalists and Arab security experts argue through various outlets, such as the Saudi satellite TV broadcast al-Ikhbariyah, that Iran's nuclear program could have a destabilizing effect on the Arab world by increasing the likelihood of military conflict in the region or by motivating Arab governments to develop or purchase a comparable nuclear capability as a deterrent. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has publicly expressed fears of Iran's ongoing nuclear program when GCC Secretary General Abdul-Rahman al-Atiya declared, "Iran's nuclear program has become worrisome for the region and a fundamental concern for all countries of the world." Suspicions of Iran's nuclear ambitions compounded with increased Iranian influence in the region post-Iraq war have provoked such sentiments including those of Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal, who expressed concern over this recent phenomenon of increased Iranian influence during a trip to Washington D.C. in late September 2005. This type of a development, which might necessitate Saudi Arabia reconsidering its otherwise benign nuclear capabilities, would subsequently have serious implications for the United States in maintaining the Saudi's security confidence. Put in another manner, disavowal of nuclear ambition was a political decision for Saudi Arabia, not a strategic one. It was penance for a transgression against an indispensable patron. As the tide turns in the region and the dynamics of bilateral relations continue to shift, this maxim concerning Saudi/U.S. relations becomes less and less enforceable.
The German publication Cicero published an article in its April 2006 edition detailing allegations that Pakistan has been collaborating with Saudi Arabia for the past several years to build a "secret nuclear program." The article contends that alleged Saudi scientists have surreptitiously been working with their Pakistani counterparts in Pakistan since the mid-1990s and that Pakistani scientists have traveled to Saudi Arabia for the last three years masquerading as pilgrims attending the Hajj. Allegedly these "pilgrims" would "disappear" for weeks at a time to work on the secret Saudi nuclear program. While Western experts cited in the Cicero article confirm the allegations, the article neglects to state whether the alleged nuclear partnership is focused on the development of nuclear weapons or more innocuous nuclear energy capabilities. Moreover, the article claimed that satellite images of the city of al-Sulayyil 500 kilometers south of Riyadh detected a "secret underground city" containing dozens of missile silos, which allegedly house Pakistani medium-range "Ghauri" missiles. Prior reports claimed this site as the place where some of the CSS-2 intermediate-range missiles Saudi Arabia purchased from China in the late 1980s are deployed and that it is being prepared to receive additional missiles. Saudi Arabia vigorously denied the existence of a secret nuclear program with Pakistani cooperation while Saudi Defense Minister Crown Prince Sultan went on to state that the claims are baseless and that Saudi Arabia fully supports nonproliferation in the region. The British Guardian newspaper has made similar charges, when in September 2003 it reported that Saudi leadership was considering a strategy paper for maintaining national security. Two of the three options outlined were acquisition of a nuclear capability or seeking an alliance with an established nuclear power that would offer protection for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan subsequently denied the 2003 reports.
Rising concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions coupled with its increased influence in post-war Iraq have led many among Arab Gulf states, in particular Saudi Arabia to be concerned. During a visit to the United States in late September 2005, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal expressed discontent over Iran's influence in Iraq and echoed sentiments of alarm within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) at Tehran's persistence in achieving nuclear technology. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, while vast in territory and riches is still a country mired with strategic liabilities. Domestically, the Kingdom is still relatively small in population, roughly 27 million as of 2006. With its oil-based economy, the country is covered with soft targets tied to its petroleum production and other oil-based activities. As the leader of OPEC and the sole possessor of 25% of the world's proven petroleum reserves, Saudi Arabia sits in a tenuous position relative to Iran and its budding nuclear program. Strategic considerations aside, domestically, Saudi Arabia must consider the impact of foreign workers, roughly 5.5 million and their impact and role in the Saudi economy especially in the oil and service sectors. While the government continues to encourage private sector growth to relieve some of the country's dependence on oil, the near future points to a continued reliance on oil revenue to support growth in the Kingdom and its continued efforts to boost job training and education, infrastructure developments, and growth in power generation and telecom sectors. A nuclear Iran would pose a sincere threat to any and all of the goals that Saudi Arabia has set out for a prosperous future. Moreover, GCC Secretary General al-Attiyah, echoing Saudi sentiments, struck out at Iran and blamed them for interfering in the internal affairs of the GCC countries, stressing that "Iran attaining nuclear weapons will lead to instability in the region and an arms race that will spread an unjustified climate of mistrust," adding that "Iran is forcing the GCC states to 'side' with the superpowers due to Iran's insistent pursuit of nuclear weapons."
In early 1991, routine satellite surveillance led U.S. intelligence photo interpreters to the chance discovery that a nuclear reactor and associated facilities were under construction in a remote area of the Algerian desert validating mounting concerns as to Algeria's nuclear ambitions. It was widely speculated that Algeria was building a small, civil nuclear infrastructure, and it had recently begun operating a 1-megawatt-thermal research reactor, at Draria, about 20 kilometers east of Algiers procured from Argentina. Suspicions further rose when Western intelligence services learned that China was supplying the reactor. While some estimates of the size of the reactor, based on its six cooling towers, indicated the thermal power could be as great as 50-60 megawatts, it was later determined that the Algerian reactor, using low-enriched uranium fuel might produce a few kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium per year with a 15-megawatt thermal capacity. At the time of this development Algeria had not yet announced whether it would place the complex under IAEA inspection adding to the already mounting suspicions. Under intense pressure from the international community, Algeria agreed in 1992 to place the facility under IAEA monitoring, which consequently resolved the controversy. Algeria followed this up by becoming a member of the NPT in 1995.
More recently in May of 2006, an 11-member Algerian nuclear delegation visited South Korea to discuss, among other things, bilateral nuclear cooperation. In the interest of expanding its nuclear capacity, the delegation met with senior leadership from South Korea. While Algeria is interested in expanding its nuclear capacity, South Korea is interested in gaining access to Algerian oil, gas, and mining resources. According to South Korea's Ministry of Science and Technology, the Algerian delegation seemed most interested in the operation of research reactors, radiation and radioisotopes, commercial nuclear power, the education of nuclear energy personnel, and medical applications of nuclear technology. Additionally, the Algerian delegation showed intense interest in the facilities at Samyoung Unitech, which produces cyclotrons, "hot cells," and glove boxes- this according to Taedok Net. According to the same source, the Algerian delegation had "aggressive and endless questions" and "actively requested permission to study and scrutinize the facilities" where press photos further demonstrated the delegation inspecting Samyoung Unitech produced hot cells. As a party to the NPT, however, Algeria, like South Korea, has pledged not to develop nuclear arms, and all nuclear materials in both countries are under IAEA inspection to ensure they are not diverted to military purposes or used for other nefarious activities. However, this most recent development has led some in the international community to speculate as to why and why now Algeria is showing such intense interest in the nuclear field.
Many countries in the Middle East have developed a heightened sense of insecurity due to Iranian persistent quest for nuclear technology that ultimately can also be used for producing nuclear weapons. Historic rivalries and a legacy of distrust between Arabs and Persians still exist throughout the region. Many Arab governments view an Iranian nuclear capability as a liability for Arab interests in the region and these governments fear increased Iranian influence in post-war Iraq and how a subsequent rise in Shi'a power would shift or alter the existing regional paradigm. Key countries in the region, like Egypt for example, which have forsworn acquiring nuclear weapons as active members of the NPT and continue to be the most enthusiastic supporters of a WMD-free zone in the region, are inclined to rethink their non-nuclear status in the event as Iran edges closer to becoming a "threshold state." To this effect on the 18th annual Arab Summit, held in Khartoum on 28 March 2006 Amr Musa, the secretary general of the 22-nation Arab League and former Egyptian foreign minister stated, "It is important for me to use this forum to call on the Arab world to quickly and powerfully enter the world of using nuclear power. Musa's statements came at a time of increased international concern that Iran is using its peaceful nuclear program as a cover for a future military nuclear program. His remarks may have been intended as an implicit appeal for Arab governments to also develop nuclear energy programs as a means for obtaining the capability to manufacture nuclear arms in the future.
Domestic Egyptian views of Iran's nuclear program are complex and not monolithic. The Egyptian government and the security communities have been largely critical of Iran's lack of transparency and oppose Iran's potential acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability. Insofar as Egypt has supported Iran's right to build a peaceful nuclear program, it has stressed the need to create a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, a goal long-held by Egypt. Further measures to prevent Iran in its endeavors to acquire nuclear technology include Egypt uniting with the United States and the EU-3 in favor of referring the Iranian nuclear file to the United Nations Security Council on 4 February 2006.
Egyptians certainly do not favor preemptive actions against Iran's nuclear program fearing that such an attack with further destabilize the region and increase terrorism. The Egyptian government's views voiced by President Hosni Mubarak in March of 2006 stressed the dire outcome that would result from any use of military force against Iran and reiterated the need for diplomacy in resolving this situation. Given Egypt's traditionally dominant role in the Arab world, it would seem that official views would echo the sentiments of the larger populace. However, the Egyptian government remained resolute in dealing with Iran not as a standalone issue but concurrent with the larger region as a whole, while Egyptian opposition groups on the other hand have taken a much different stance in sharp contrast with the government's official view. The Muslim Brotherhood, which after recent Egyptian parliamentary elections now hold 76 seats in the 454-member Egyptian Parliament, have stated that a nuclear weapon-armed Iran would not be harmful but instead would be helpful in establishing a balance between Israel and the Arab and Islamic world. At the same time, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has vociferously advocated an Egyptian nuclear weapons program as a matter of national right and to safeguard Egyptian national interest. In recent years the Brotherhood has criticized the Mubarak government for solely pursuing a nuclear energy program.
Unofficial polls conducted by Arab news sources claim that similar to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a large majority of Arab citizens in the Middle East were actually in favor of Iran's nuclear progress and not opposed to a nuclear Iran, which they viewed as a counterbalance to Israeli and American hegemony in the region. Despite the Egyptian government's unyielding support for the United States, the EU-3 and the IAEA Board of Governors in their criticism of Iran, it appears a large number of Egyptian citizens and intellectuals are opposed to what is viewed as an illegitimate use of Western pressure against Iran, a country many protest has the right to pursue peaceful nuclear technology as a member of the NPT. At the same time, while many Arab intellectuals and citizens of Egypt and other countries believed that the West was exaggerating Iran's potential threat to the region, there was increased Arab envy of Iranian technological progress and overt calls for Arab governments to achieve technological and nuclear parity with Iran and Israel as a matter of Arab nationalism and pride.
By June 2006, the EU-3, Germany, Russia, China and the United States offered Iran another incentive package to suspend its uranium enrichment activities and other sensitive parts of its nuclear program in return for various economic and technological assistance. This offer to Iran caused additional discomfort among Arab officials and intellectuals. Many saw this offer as a reward for Iranian rejection and stubbornness. Most notably many in the Arab world were discouraged at the exclusion of Arab governments from these negotiations. Arab governments were seen as acting as spectators while the West was nearing a grand bargain with Iran. At that time many reports in Arab media outlets articulated Arab suspicion that Iran may reach an agreement with the United States at the expense of Arab interests in the Middle East. Some analysts feared that such a rapprochement between Iran and the West might bring the region back to days of the Shah and Iranian military hegemony in the gulf, a time when Iran portrayed itself as the "policeman of the region." That was coupled with the concern that in the aftermath of such rapprochement Iran might resort to pressuring and intimidating its smaller Arab neighbors in the Gulf.
Similarly, many called on Arab governments to adopt a unified and assertive stance against Iran's reemergence in the region and to transcend narrow national interest and old rivalries in order for Arabs to master their own destiny. Analysts and commentators in various Arab periodicals and on the popular satellite television station al-Jazeera were calling on Arab governments to assert their role and take part in shaping the region and to not merely act as spectators while the United States and Iran shape regional dynamics. They called for Arab leaders to be more assertive in perusing Arab interests in the region. Others saw the negotiations between the West and Iran as a victory for the latter. The Pan-Arabist periodical al-Quds al-Arabi argued that Arab leaders should learn from Iran's example. It emphasized that Arab governments should see these negotiations and the generous incentives offered to Iran by the west as a victory for Iran's unwavering approach, which "forced the U.S. to give up its former aggressive attitude. This was the result of the Iranian leadership's perseverance and the fact that Iran has gained the largest possible number of cards that it can use to put pressure on the U.S. especially in Iraq." It too called for Arab rulers to avoid being mere followers of American policy in the region and pursue a more forceful posture following Iran's example.
By July 2006, popular criticism of Arab leadership was further amplified due the severe Israeli bombing of Lebanon following the abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. Following Hezbollah's abduction of Israeli soldiers, Israel carried out several bombings of Lebanese infrastructure including the bombing of the Beirut airport, oil depots, bridges, roads, entire neighborhoods in various Lebanese cities and towns and a full naval blockade of Lebanese shores. While the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab states initially blamed Hezbollah for provoking the war with Israel, they soon had to back peddle due to perceived Israeli overreaction and American acquiescence to Israeli destruction of Lebanese infrastructure, and namely due to the U.S.'s refusal to allow a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire for more than three weeks.
The general Arab perception of the inability of Arab governments to stop the renewed invasion and destruction of Lebanon, coupled with Arab envy of Iranian nuclear progress, the ongoing American occupation of Iraq, and long standing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza caused Arab popular anger and intellectual criticism to boil over. Unprecedented levels of condemnation were visible all over Arab television and media outlets. Accounts abounded of unparalleled Arab humiliation and vociferous condemnation of Arab leadership as culpable and cowardly for not demanding an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon. In due time, this forced Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa and notable Arab foreign ministers to travel to Lebanon in early August to show solidarity with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora. Shortly thereafter, a delegation of Arab ministers traveled to the UN Security Council and Washington to convince the United States and other P-5 members to support a ceasefire resolution.
At the height of the war between Israel and Hezbollah and the resulting staggering destruction in Lebanon, on 27 July, Egyptian security analyst Salamah Ahmad Salamah articulated popular Arab sentiments that were prevalent in the region, stating that Arab countries, especially Egypt, should emulate Iran's resolute behavior, focusing specifically on the nuclear sector. In an uncommonly vocal commentary in the English-language version of al-Ahram [a similar piece was written in the Arabic al-Ahram], Egypt's leading newspaper that is closely linked to the Egyptian government, Mr. Salamah argued that the contemporary Arab sense of humiliation is a direct result of abandoned nuclear aspirations. He wrote:
"We should compare our conditions and actions with those of Tehran. Iran has doggedly pushed on with its nuclear program in the face of fierce U.S. and European opposition. Iran has been cajoled and threatened, offered carrots and sticks, and it refused to listen. Iran refused to trade its nuclear program for a bag of poisoned sweets. We, on the other hand, buckled at the first temptation. Egypt and other Arab countries gave up their nuclear programs in the 1970s and 1980s because we were told to do so or else were frightened in the wake of Chernobyl. Whatever the motives, Arab populations were duped and now have to pay homage to a scientifically and militarily superior Israel…. I do not know how far Iran is from having nuclear weapons. Suffice it to say that whatever progress it has made, it has scared its foes…. Iran is standing up to the United States and Israel, and because it is doing so has a chance to escape the tragic fate of Lebanon. Had one Arab country, say Egypt, refused to bow to threats and listen to temptations, we would have had nuclear weapons, just as Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea do. And things would have been different in this region. We would not have been watching the rape of Lebanon. We would not have seen the United States throwing its weight around the region. We would have had nuclear parity, and with it some respect. The humiliation and helplessness that we now feel could have been avoided had we acted in a timely manner, had we had more foresight, and had the strength to stand up for our rights."
On 14 August, the day the ceasefire ended the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Mustafa Allabad, editor of the Arabic magazine East Nama, underscored Arab concerns as he stated on Al-Jazeera, "If 'god forbid' a battle erupts between Washington and Iran … the losers and those who will pay the price are the Arab countries, which will be caught in the crossfire in this confrontation. I think the time has come to formulate a united Arab political stance, not necessarily with Iran or against it, but to protect Arab interests. But truthfully, the only two trends in the current regional climate are the American Israeli project and the Iranian project."
More so, Hezbollah's favorable performance against the Israeli forces and its ability to launch more than 3,000 rockets on northern Israel further enhanced its stature in the region as the only Arab force capable and willing to stand up to Israel. This resulted in the increased popularity of Hezbollah on the Arab streets, which caused further discomfort among moderate Arab governments who initially blamed Hezbollah for provoking the conflict with Israel and now were watching Hezbollah emerge victorious from the short war and by extension enhancing Iranian and Syrian influence as the only countries that supported and supplied Hezbollah in its time of peril. As a result, moderate Arab governments became increasingly weary of growing Iranian legitimacy and influence in Southern Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian areas where Iran steadfastly rejected the economic boycott of the new Hamas-led government, unlike the moderate governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Jordan that yielded to western demands to uphold the boycott.
Jammal Mubarak, the son of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak on 19 September 2006, addressed delegates of the country's ruling Egyptian Democratic Party to consider a proposal to revive Egypt's civilian nuclear power program that had been frozen for nearly two decades following the Chernobyl accident. In an hour-long passionate speech, Mubarak spoke of Egypt's "responsibility to offer a new vision for the Middle East based on our Arab identity," and explicitly rejected the "New Middle East" a term used by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during July/August war in Lebanon. The son of Egypt's president insisted that reviving Egypt's dormant nuclear program was needed to meet Egypt's increasing energy needs that have been growing at an annual rate of 7% due to Egypt's limited supply of natural energy sources. The young Mubarak also reiterated Egypt's right as a member of the NPT to engage in peaceful nuclear activities.
A few days later on 24 September 2006, it was revealed by the Egyptian minister of electricity and energy that the plans include a $1.5 billion dollar 1,100-megawatt power plant to be constructed on the Mediterranean coast at El-Dabaa. By 2020, Egypt plans to construct three additional plants generating a total of 1,800 megawatts. In his address to delegates, the 42-year-old Gamal Mubarak declared, "Egypt is a big country and plays a leading role and will continue to do that." Additionally he told party members in Cairo, "We will continue using our natural resources, but we should conserve these resources for our future generations. The whole world is looking at alternative energy-so should Egypt-including nuclear." Moreover, it was reported in Egyptian media that Saudi Arabia and other gulf states have responded positively to Egyptian requests for financial aid to fund its acquisition of additional nuclear reactors. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman reportedly promised to contribute to the revival of the long dormant Egyptian nuclear program.
Similarly, at the end of the 27th summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council On 10 December 2006, an official statement by the GCC was issued to affirm the six-member organization's move to commission a study on the pursuit of a joint nuclear program. This statement is similar to ones made by Egypt and Morocco in previous weeks. The GCC affirmed that the "states of the region have a right to possess nuclear technology for peaceful purposes." Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister confirmed the rationale behind a shared nuclear development initiative by stating, "Gulf states are not known for seeking hegemony or threatening power. They seek stability and peace." The members of the GCC offered assurance that if a formal decision is made to commence a joint nuclear program, it will be done so in a transparent manner in compliance with international law. The GCC reemphasized its hope for a nuclear-free Middle East and called on Israel to open its nuclear arsenal to international inspectors and eventually be completely rid of its weapons.
This about-face comes as other countries in the region react to the mounting tension concerning Iran's nuclear program and its aspiration to further enrich uranium on its own soil. Egypt, along with others are worried at the failure of the United Nations to stop Iran from enriching uranium and are troubled by the idea that they might be left behind should Iran one day develop nuclear weapons. Egypt, with its renowned stance against weapons of mass destruction in the region has alleviated some strategic fears by assuring the international community that this new plan is not a covert attempt to develop an indigenous uranium enrichment capability. In simple terms, demand for electricity has grown in Egypt at an average rate of 7% a year and the country which has oil reserves of 2.7 billion barrels faces serious shortages as it continues to produce 700,000 barrels a day while consuming 500,000 BPD. Other issues of prestige and domestic scientific development play a crucial role alongside the obvious advantages of cleaner, environmentally friendly nuclear energy as opposed to the use of fossil fuel.
This does not suggest that Egypt intends to abandon its longstanding regional leadership in calling for a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East. On the contrary, Egyptian Ambassador to the United States Nabil Fahmy stated on 11 December 2006 in Monterey, California that Egypt still views a NWFZ as the solution to nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, and Egypt will continue to push this regional platform to allow for greater transparency and call for a clear-cut prohibition on nuclear weapons. It is probable that Egypt will pursue a dual-pronged nuclear posture in the region. It will continue to advocate and call for a NWFZ in the Middle as a perquisite for increased stability; while at the same time it will aggressively pursue a robust peaceful nuclear program that can be converted to a military program if in the next decade Iran withdraws from the NPT or if a serious external challenge to Egyptian security emerges.
Egypt's announcement of its renewed nuclear ambition and acquisition of robust nuclear capability can be viewed as a direct result of the unchecked Iranian nuclear program and other events in the region that have Arab populations demanding an adequate Arab response and a show of force to restore Arab dignity and safeguard Arab interest in the face of evolving regional dynamics. As best described by the Egyptian energy minister "The people are searching for a dream, a national project that proves to us that we are strong and capable of doing something fitting of the grandeur of a country that some have begun to doubt."
In April 2006, Morocco announced that it plans to build a nuclear power program.
The Moroccan announcement was given more weight in early September during Russian President Vladimir Putin's state visit to Rabat, when a spokesman for Russia's nuclear export agency, Atomstroiexport, declared that Russia would bid on a contract to build Morocco's first nuclear power station. As this juncture, Morocco appears interested only in acquiring a modern nuclear power plant, for the production of nuclear energy. Unlike Iran, Morocco has not indicated any intention to develop enrichment or reprocessing facilities for enriching uranium or for the separation of plutonium: legitimate nuclear technologies which can support a civil nuclear power program, but can also be converted to produce nuclear weapon material. It is assumed that fuel for Morocco's prospective nuclear power plant would be imported from abroad.
Up to this point, Morocco's nuclear program consisted of a small (two megawatt (MW)) research reactor that was supplied by the United States and is undergoing commissioning at Marmora Center for Nuclear Studies near Rabat. In the late 1990s, Morocco reached an advanced stage of negotiation with China for the construction of a 10MW nuclear reactor at Tan-Tan on Morocco's Atlantic Coast. This reactor was meant to be used for water desalination for agricultural purposes, but the project was delayed due to environmental concerns. Morocco plans to bring its first new nuclear power station on line by 2016.
Similar to Egypt's energy concerns but driven less by strategic considerations, Morocco's decision appears to be guided more by domestic energy needs. Due to its geographic remoteness, Morocco has largely been insulated from the repercussions of the rivalries in the Persian Gulf, as well as from the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is likely that Algeria's nuclear program remains a source of residual concern for Rabat, due to Morocco's competition with Algeria for leadership and prestige in Northern Africa, which has likely been an implicit factor in Morocco's decision to publicize its plan for nuclear procurement.
The Moroccan nuclear program is more likely geared toward legitimate energy needs for the adequacy of electricity supplies has been a major concern for Moroccan industries. Moroccan domestic electricity production has not been able to keep pace with increasing domestic demand that is growing at an annual rate of eight percent, which forced Morocco to import electricity from Algeria and Spain. Due to the Kingdom's lack of alternative domestic energy resources, despite extensive oil exploration efforts that have not uncovered any major oil resources and subsequently forced Morocco to import oil from the Persian Gulf and Russia, therefore the use of nuclear energy for electricity production is attractive.
Morocco sees a nuclear program as an efficient means for reducing energy costs and further diversifying its energy supplies. As stated recently by the director of the Moroccan National Bureau of Electricity, Youness Maamar, "The nuclear option is now part of our investment program. The decision has been taken but it takes a very long time for a nuclear project to get under way." Moulay Abdellah Alaoui, president of the Moroccan Energy Federation, echoed this view and added, "The nuclear option is vital for a country like ours. It will allow us cheap energy and will put us among the most competitive countries."
While Morocco's new pursuit of nuclear technology may not directly be the result of a security calculus vis-a-vis Iran, it is obvious by the timing of the new announcement that Morocco, like Egypt, is emboldened by Iran's defiance and subsequent success and is at this time seeking to acquire this nuclear technology that would have been much more difficult to justify if it wasn't for Iran's example. Egypt, the GCC and Morocco's statements of upcoming nuclear ventures all come at a time when Arabs observe Iran having successfully acquire advanced nuclear technology in spite of its lack of transparency and illegal acquisition from the A.Q. Khan nuclear network, while at the same time the international community has failed to halt Iran's nuclear ambition and in fact has offered to reward Iran's achievement with generous offers of cooperation in return for a freeze on enrichment activities which Iran has stubbornly rejected. This situation is emboldening moderate Arab leaders and has provided them with an unprecedented opportunity to acquire advanced nuclear technology while relying on transparency and their good relations with the West to avoid Iran's contentious affair. Due to a unique combination of circumstances, moderate Arab leaders find themselves in a situation where:
Not surprisingly, in the aftermath of Morocco's statement of its desire to build a nuclear power program and Putin's visit to Rabat; the Algerian Minister of Energy and Mines Shakib Khalil stated on 28 November 2006, that Algeria also wishes to utilize its uranium mines and civilian nuclear reactors to produce electricity. He states "We have uranium mines. Over the long term we intend to utilize nuclear energy to produce electricity." His statement came following his meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenajad in Tehran. Algeria enjoys relatively closer ties with Iran than most other Arab countries and following the meeting in Tehran Ahmadenajad offered to help Algeria with its nuclear advancement.
Despite increasing alarm over Iran's budding nuclear program and the gradual mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle and acquisition of nuclear conversion and enrichment technology, coupled with Iran's history of concealment, lack of transparency toward the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a steadfast insistence on acquisition of nuclear technology at all costs, the International community has thus far failed to sufficiently discourage Tehran from moving forward. This failure is mainly due to the P-5 members of the United Nations Security Council (and Germany) and its inability to agree on a suitable and consistent approach toward Iran. Russia and China do not support any meaningful sanctions on Iran that might make its defiance of the UNSC painful; at the same time the United States has thus far refused to unconditionally negotiate directly with Iran and to attempt to alleviate some of Iran's threat perceptions that are the main driver behind Iran's nuclear pursuit. This lack of agreement among the P-5 plus 1 is likely to cause increasing proliferation of nuclear technology in the Middle East.
This failure of the international community to hinder Iran's budding nuclear program is motivating and emboldening Egypt and other Arab countries to pursue a similar course of action. The possible future threat of Iranian nuclear weapons acquisition has motivated Egypt and other Arabs to pursue a peaceful nuclear capability that in the future may be converted to military means if the need arises to safeguard Egyptian and Arab sovereignty. More so, Iran's steadfast posture and the rewards presented to Iran by the international community have bolstered Arabs to pursue a similar unwavering approach and aggressive posture perceiving it as having served Iran well. To this end, Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's ambassador to the United States stated that if Iran's lack of transparency continues unchecked it will likely fuel an arms race in the Middle East and possibly lead to an erosion of the nonproliferation regime.
It is also worth noting that current regional dynamics are very conducive to Egyptian nuclear ambitions. In a post-Saddam era, a new dynamic has emerged in the region where the central Arab nations–namely Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Jordan–all share similar interests and orientation, leaving Syria as the sole major Arab country at odds. Unlike the tumultuous 1960s of Jammal Abdel Nasser when Egypt and Saudi Arabia were at odds politically in their foreign alliances and regional orientation; in the current political climate, these notable Arab nations enjoy improved political relations, share an alliance with the United States, share a suspicion of Iran's increasing regional role, favor peace with Israel, and all share a genuine hostility toward al-Qaeda's Salafi Jihadi terrorism in the region. This unique dynamic and political climate provides Egypt with unprecedented regional legitimacy to pursue a robust nuclear program on behalf of the greater Arab world with the blessing and financial support of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which are likely in the future to look for an enhanced Egyptian role in containing the emerging Persian influence in the Middle East and safeguarding Arab interests. Conversely, unlike their past support of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, which backfired with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and due to the moderation of the Egyptian government and its favorable international stature, the rich Gulf states can support Egypt without fear of a backlash or future peril. Iran's emerging nuclear program and increased influence in Iraq and Southern Lebanon are motivating the moderate Arab nations to form a more united front to counter the emerging Iranian influence. Egypt as the largest and most powerful Arab country is likely to spearhead such efforts.
Conversely, Syria and Iraq are disinclined to fear an emerging Iranian nuclear capability. Syrian Allawite leadership is a long-time ally of Iran and was the only Arab government that supported Iran during the Iran-Iraq war causing great frustration amongst Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) that had generously contributed billions of dollars in assistance to Syria's national development. The post war-Iraqi government is dominated by Shi'a parties with strong ties to Tehran that also do not share Gulf Arabs' concern of growing Iranian influence in the region.
 Kamran Khan, "Pakistanis Exploited Nuclear Network," Washington Post, 28 January 2004.
 "Report on 'Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran, " International Atomic Energy Agency, Press Release, 1 September 2004.
 Robert J. Einhorn, "Egypt: Frustrated but Still on a Non-Nuclear Course," in Kurt M. Campbell and Robert J. Einhorn and Mitchell B. Reiss eds., The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institute Press, 2004), p. 54.
 Ibid. p. 53
 Uranium and plutonium are the two major elements in the actinides group.
 "Atomic Energy Authority: About AEA," Egyptian Universities Network, www.frcu.eun.eg.
 Amanda Lee Myers, "Saudi Ambassador Decries Iran Nuke Program," Associated Press, 8 February 2006.
 Sajini Dolrimani, "The Point of No Return," al-Ahram, 17 January 2006, FBIS document GMP20060117013003; "Will Iran Revive Brinksmanship Policy," al-Riyad, 17 January 2006, FBIS document GMP200601175114003; Samah Shahwan, "Iran's Nuclear Issue," al-Ikhbariyah Satellite Channel, 24 January 2006, FBIS document GMP20060125711001.
 "GCC Calls on Tehran to Enforce Stability, Security in Gulf Region," Arab Times, 28 November 2005.
 "Saudi Foreign Minister Says Iraqis Complain of Iran's Interference," BBC Monitoring International Reports, 24 September 2005.
 Thomas W. Lippman, "Saudi Arabia: The Calculations of Uncertainty," in Kurt M. Campbell and Robert J. Einhorn and Mitchell B. Reiss eds., The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institute Press, 2004), p. 112.
 "Majala almaniya taz'am an al-Saudiya ta'amal ala barnamij nawawi siri" [German Magazine Claims that Saudi Arabia is Working on a Secret Nulcear Program], Cham Press, 30 March 2006.
 "Kingdom Denies Nuke Report," Arab News, 1 April 2006.
 See source in ; "al-Sulayyil Missile Base," Global Security, www.globalsecurity.org.
 "Al-Riyad tanfee wujud ay barnamij nawawi ma Bakistan" [Al-Riyad Denies the Existence of any Nuclear Program with Pakistan], Dar al-Hayat, 1 April 2006.
 Ewen MacAskill and Ian Traynor, "Saudis Consider Nuclear Bomb," The Guardian, 18 September 2003.
 Mahmood Almaky Ahmad, "al-Atiyah Expresses Gulf Fear of Iran's Nuclear Program," Dar Al-Hayat, 28 November 2005.
 David Albright, Corey Hinderstein, "Algeria: Big deal in the desert?" Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 57 no. 03 (May/June 2001), p. 45-52.
 ROK Ministry of Science and Technology, "Aljeri wonjaryog'wiwonjang panghan" [Algerian Director of Atomic Energy Commission Visits Korea], MOST Podojaryo, 19 May 2006, www.most.go.kr.
 "Country Overviews: Egypt: Nuclear Facilities," Nuclear Threat Initiative, www.nti.org.
 "Nuclear Weapons Program," Federation of American Scientists, www.fas.org.
 "Egypt's Bidding Nuclear Program: The Risk Report," (September-October 1996), Vol 2 Number 5, www.wisconsinproject.org.
 "Nur Reactor/Draria," Global Security, www.globalsecurity.org.
 "Communique Reports on Nuclear Exports to Algeria," Telam Buenos Aires, 25 August 1998, in FBIS-TAC-98-237.
 "El Salam Reactor/Ain Oussera," Global Security, www.globalsecurity.org.
 "Mousa yutalib al-arab bil-istikhdam as-silmi lil-taqa al-nawawiya" [Mousa Asks Arabs to Pursue Peaceful Nuclear Energy], al-Ittihad, 29 March 2006.
 "Egypt: Presidential Envoy Comments on Mubarak's European Tour, Iran," Middle East News Agency, 14 March 2006, OSC document GMP20060314710015.
 "Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood Does Not Oppose Iran Obtaining Nuclear Weapons," As-Sharq al-Awsat, 17 April 2006.
 "Do you believe that the Iranian nuclear program is in the best interst of the region?" Al-Jazeera, 16 April 2006; Mohammed Abdel Salam, "The Arab Position on Iranian Nuclear Activities," Al-Ahram, 9 September 2004.
 Raghda Dergham "Al gharb yaqtaribu min safqa ma`a Iran… wa al Arab ayna al Arab" [The West is getting close to a deal with Iran… and the Arabs, where are the Arabs?] al-Hayat, 9 June 2006; "Al mawqif al irani arrafid liwaqf annashat annawawi" [Iran's rejection to suspend its nuclear activities], "Ma wara'a al khabar" [Behind the News], al-Jazeera, 2 June 2006; Hassan Fahs, "Tehran tutalibu bimtiyazat iqlimiya muqabila ta`ahudiha atta`awun iqlimiyan [Iran demands regional benefits against a pledge of regional cooperation], al-Hayat, 1 July 2006.
 "Darss irani lizu`amaa al Arab" [An Iranian lesson to Arab leaders], al-Quds al-Arabi, 1 June 2006.
 Salamah Ahmad Salamah, "Egyptian Columnist Urges Different Position on Iran's Nuclear Program," al-Ahram Weekly, 27 July 2006, OSC document GMP20060730362006.
"Al dhilal al-`Iraniya wal harb `ala Hizb Allah," [Iran's Shadow and the War on Hezbollah], "Ma wara'a al khabar" [Behind the News], al-Jazeera, 14 August 2006.
 "Egyptian president's son proposes developing nuclear energy," International Herald Tribune, 19 September 2006, www.iht.com.
 "Mubarak's Son Proposes Developing Nuclear Energy," Associated Press, 19 September 2006; Michael Slackman and Mona El-Naggar, "Mubarak's Son Proposes Nuclear Program," The New York Times, 20 September 2006; "Egyptian Ruling Party Official Says President Entitled to Appoint Vice-President," Middle East News Agency, 20 September 2006; "Egypt: Mubarak's Son Pushes Nuke Energy," AFX, 20 20 September 2006; "Egyptian Ruling Party Meeting Discusses Peaceful Usage of Nuclear Energy," Middle East News Agency, 21 September 2006; "Egypt Unveils Nuclear Power Plan," BBC, 25 September 2006; "Egyptian President Mubarak; 'We Must Take Greater Advantage of New…Energy Sources, Including Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy': Renewed Debate in Egypt on Egyptian Nuclear Program for Peaceful Purposes," The Middle East Media Research Institute, 26 September 2006.
 "Mubarak's Son Proposes Developing Nuclear Energy," Associated Press, 19 September 2006; Michael Slackman and Mona El-Naggar, "Mubarak's Son Proposes Nuclear Program," The New York Times, 20 September 2006; "Egyptian Ruling Party Official Says President Entitled to Appoint Vice-President," Middle East News Agency, 20 September 2006; "Egypt: Mubarak's Son Pushes Nuke Energy," AFX, 20 September 20, 2006; "Egyptian Ruling Party Meeting Discusses Peaceful Usage of Nuclear Energy," Middle East News Agency, 21 September 2006; "Egypt Unveils Nuclear Power Plan," BBC, 25 September 2006; "Report on Egypt's Plans to Build Three Nuclear Power Stations," Al-Sharq al-Awsat, OSC Document GMP20060924836007, 24 September 2006; "Egypt to Start Building Nuclear Power Plants Soon, Minister Says," The Associated Press, 24 September 2006; "IAEA to Help Egypt in Developing Peaceful Nuclear Technology," Middle East News Agency, OSC Document GMP20060924950022, 24 September 2006; Lin Jianyang, "Roundup: Egypt Decides to Pursue Nuclear Energy," Xinhua, 24 September 2006; "Egyptian Energy Council Decides to Pursue Nuclear Power Option," Middle East News Agency, 24 September 2006; Rafael Bikbayev, "Egypt is About to Launch National Atomic Energy Program," ITAR-TASS, 24 September 2006; Alain Navarro, "Egypt to Relaunch Civil Nuclear Program," Agence France Presse, 24 September 2006; Herb Keinon and Associated Press, "Olmert Unfazed by Egypt's Plans to Build Nuclear Plants," The Jerusalem Post, 25 September 2006; William Wallis and Roula Khalaf, "Speculation After Egypt Revives Nuclear Plans," Financial Times, 25 September 2006; Paul Reynolds, "Concern Over Middle East Nuclear Plans," BBC, 25 September 2006; "Egypt to Begin Building Nuclear Power Reactors," Global Security Newswire, 25 September 2006; "Egypt to Relaunch Civil Nuclear Program," Turkish Daily News, 26 September 2006; "Egyptian President Mubarak; 'We Must Take Greater Advantage of New…Energy Sources, Including Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy': Renewed Debate in Egypt on Egyptian Nuclear Program for Peaceful Purposes," The Middle East Media Research Institute, 26 September 2006.
 "Saudi Arabia, Libya Promise to Provide Uranium to Egypt's Nuclear Programme," Al-Misriyun, 6 November 2006, in OSC Document No. GMP20061107950036.
 "GCC announces plans for joint nuclear program," Al Jazeera, 11 December 2006.
 Abdullah Shihri and Diana Elias, "Gulf states study nuclear options," The Toronto Star, 11 December 2006.
 Hassan M. Fattah, "Arab Nations Plan to Start Joint Nuclear Energy Program," The New York Times, 11 December 2006; Emily B. Landau, "The risky reality of new nuclear programs. As world fails to stop Teheran others in Mideast consider joining atomic club," Jerusalem Post, December 12, 2006; Roula Khalaf, "Gulf Arabs weigh joint nuclear programme," Financial Times, 11 December 2006.
 See Note 41.
 Ambassador Nabil Fahmy, "The Impact of Iran's Nuclear Activities on Politics in the Middle East," Presentation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, 11 December 2006.
"Egypt's Energy Minister on Nuclear 'Dream'," Al-Ahram, 6 October 2006, OSC document GMP20061006007002.
 "Morocco to Invest in Nuclear Power for the First Time," Agence France Presse – English, 25 April 2006; John Thorne "Putin in Morocco for Talks Likely on Arms, Nuclear Reactor," Associated Press, 7 September 2006.
 Nuclear Threat Initiative, "China's Nuclear Exports and Assistance to the Middle East," www.nti.org.
 See, Energy Information Administration, Country Analysis Briefs, Arab Maghreb Union, February 2004, www.eia.doe.gov.
 "Morocco to Invest in Nuclear Power for the First Time," Agence France Presse, 25 April 2006.
 Tariq Qattab "L'option nucleaire est incontournable" [The nuclear Option is Vital], L'economiste, 10 September 2006.
 "Algeria Wishes to Produce Electricity By Utilizing Nuclear Energy," Al-Ghad, 29 November 2006.
 "Iran Offers Algeria Its Nuclear Expertise," Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 29 November 2006.
 Ambassador Nabil Fahmy, "The Impact of Iran's Nuclear Activities on Politics in the Middle East," Presentation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, 11 December 2006.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest on nuclear and biological threats.
To make good on their COP28 pledge, countries need a new approach to building, regulating, and financing nuclear technology.
The Playbook emphasizes the need for a holistic approach to scaling nuclear energy, considering the unique challenges and opportunities specific to each country, and highlights the role that new international institutions could play in supporting a global nuclear expansion.
“The bottom line is that the countries and areas with the greatest responsibility for protecting the world from a catastrophic act of nuclear terrorism are derelict in their duty,” the 2023 NTI Index reports.