Arab Arms Race Isn't Aiming Only for Israel : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Nando Times

(fair use blah blah posted 08:51 MST 2000/03/05)

"Arab arms race isn't aiming only for Israel


CAIRO, Egypt (March 5, 2000 12:03 a.m. EST

The Mideast arms race is inspired only in part by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Few military experts expect it to de-escalate even if Israel makes peace with all its neighbors.

This is a region where distrust and hatred born of decades of religious and ethnic conflict run deep. Iraq and Iran fought a ruinous war in 1980-88. Several Arab nations provided troops for the U.S.-led coalition that drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in 1991.

Rivalries and resentments from such conflicts make the Middle East a complex place and increase the danger of regional wars, said Mohammed Kadry Said, a retired Egyptian general who now studies disarmament.

"The Middle East is extremely heterogeneous when it comes to security requirements," he said.

Still, for now at least, the conflict between Israel and the region's Muslim states remains the focus.

Israeli peace negotiations with the Palestinians and Syria are stalemated, but the parties appear to be committed to keeping the process going. Lebanon is virtually certain to follow Syria's lead if Damascus signs a peace accord with Israel, which already has treaties with Jordan and Egypt, although its relations with them are often cool.

Against the backdrop of that decades-long face-off, however, Arabs want long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction for defense against Israel's reportedly powerful arsenal, said Walid Kazziha, a political-science professor at the American University in Cairo.

Israel has never acknowledged assertions by foreign intelligence and defense agencies that it possesses nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. But like its Arab neighbors, Israel says it is not the aggressor in the region and needs powerful weapons to defend itself.

Its Shavit missile, unveiled in 1989 to launch satellites, can be modified for military purposes and converted to a ballistic missile with a range of 2,810 miles, foreign defense publications say. Such a range would allow Israel to hit targets as far away as Libya, Iran and the southern parts of the former Soviet Union.

Matching the secrecy of the Arab states, Israel does not release information on its strategic weapons. It also bans anyone in Israel from writing about them. However, during a debate in Israel's Parliament in February, Arab legislator Issam Mahoul claimed Israel had 300 nuclear warheads.

Experts say Egypt and non-Arab Iran are among several Middle Eastern countries with secret long-range missile programs and arsenals of chemical and biological weapons. China, North Korea and Russia are believed to be their main sources of technology.

"It is not purely idle lust or greed for power," said Rosemary Hollis, a Middle East expert at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs. "There are actually advantages in developing weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent. It is cheaper than putting more men in uniform."

Waheed Abdul-Maguid, head of Arab affairs at Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said he worries most about regional players who aren't on the front line.

"The real danger of these weapons is that people like (Iraqi leader) Saddam Hussein and (Libyan leader) Moammar Gadhafi have them," he said.

Sean Boyne, who writes from Ireland on the Middle East for Jane's Intelligence Review, said Iraq may have stepped up its weapons programs after U.N. weapons inspectors left in December 1998 before a U.S.-British bombing campaign.

The United Nations has so far not come up with a plan for restarting inspections intended to ensure that Iraq doesn't build up an arsenal of mass-destruction weapons and long-range missiles. The Iraqis attacked Israel and Saudi Arabia with Scud missiles during the Gulf War.

Britain announced in January that it had seized at a London airport an illegal shipment of missile components destined for Libya, a country that has recently toned down its anti-Israel rhetoric but has yet to declare its support for Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

Duncan Lennox, editor of Jane's Strategic Weapon Systems, said Libya has Scud missiles with a range of just under 190 miles, which would not reach Israel.

But Western press reports have said Libya may be receiving North Korean help to upgrade its Scuds to carry heavier payloads farther. Some reports have said Libya also has received Nondong missiles from North Korea that are capable of carrying chemical warheads.

"The Libyans have ambitions to target Israel and even to target Europe," said Ariel Levite, a senior research associate at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Israel's most prestigious political-military think tank.

Egypt, the most populous Arab state and an Israeli neighbor, is not known to possess nuclear weapons but is suspected of developing biological and chemical arms capabilities. It started its own missile program in the 1960s with the help of foreign experts, but later abandoned that and bought Scuds from the former Soviet Union capable of reaching Israel.

A beneficiary of billions of dollars worth of U.S. military aid since the late 1970s, Egypt reacted angrily to a CIA report last year listing it among nations trying to develop mass-destruction weapons with outside help. The report, it said, reflected a "double-standard policy" because it did not mention Israel.

Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally whose oil wealth gives it considerable weight in the region, openly bought Chinese CSS-2 missiles with a range of 1,560 miles as long ago as 1987 - a reach that stretches to Israel, Iraq and Iran. The Saudis, however, are not known to be seeking the acquisition of mass-destruction warheads.

Syria is suspected of seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction and of receiving North Korean help in lengthening the range of its Scud missiles, which already can reach Israel.

Iran is consistently included in lists issued by Western intelligence agencies of nations believed to be trying to acquire mass-destruction weapons. It denies doing so.

Iran has acquired North Korean Nondong missiles with a range of 810 miles, said Lennox, the Jane's strategic analyst.

But the experts say Iran's long-standing enmity for Israel probably isn't the main impetus behind its weapons improvements and point instead to the Iranians' mistrust of neighboring Iraq."

-- firefly (, March 05, 2000

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