Voices from the Arab press: Iran's nuclear bomb: Truth & consequences

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from Arab media around the world.

 ADVISING CAUTION: ChatGPT. (photo credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
(photo credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The Iranian nuclear bomb: Truth & consequences

Al Qabas, Kuwait, March 12

For more stories from The Media Line go to themedialine.org

The US undersecretary of defense recently asserted that Iran has obtained enough fissile material to manufacture a nuclear bomb within 12 days. This claim is supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) February 28 quarterly report, which reveals the presence of 83.7% enriched uranium particles at the Fordow fuel enrichment plant. Additionally, the IAEA has confirmed Iran’s clandestine experiments to create uranium for use in nuclear weapons. Therefore, it appears that Iran has acquired enough enriched uranium to construct a nuclear weapon in a short window of time. 

This revelation leads to the pertinent question: Will Iran move forward with producing nuclear weapons? The answer to this question is complex. It is unclear what Tehran’s true intentions are; while at times it appears that the mullahs are serious in this endeavor, other times it appears they are simply using it as a threat to exert pressure against the West. 

Israel has made it clear that it will take military action if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, even without US support. This reaction, as well as potential antagonism from other nations such as Russia, Turkey and Gulf states, would be disastrous for Iran, especially in light of its current economic crisis and diminishing legitimacy. 

All evidence points to the conclusion that Iran will not accept the suicidal step of producing nuclear weapons in the near future. In 2015, the Iran nuclear agreement was implemented, making it difficult for the country to produce nuclear weapons for at least 10 years due to the agreement’s strict provisions and inspections of reactors. The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the nuclear program in 2018 encouraged Iran to resume uranium enrichment operations that had stopped after 2015. 

When Biden took office, he sought to revive the negotiations on the nuclear program; however, these discussions have stalled due to disagreements over sanctions. This leads us to conclude that Tehran has deliberately escalated its nuclear ambitions at this time as a strong bargaining chip to pressure Washington into returning to negotiations and to make the significant concessions they are demanding, such as the lifting of harsh economic sanctions that put the regime’s legitimacy in jeopardy. 

 RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER Sergei Lavrov (L) meets with Saudi Arabian counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud in Moscow, March 9. (credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/AFP via Getty Images) RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER Sergei Lavrov (L) meets with Saudi Arabian counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud in Moscow, March 9. (credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

As the Biden administration grapples with two potentially dangerous confrontations – one with Russia and one with China – Tehran may believe that it cannot open a new line of confrontation, which could develop into a military conflict in the region. Tehran may also think that Washington will attempt to placate it by isolating it from its main Russian and Chinese allies in the long run. 

Ultimately, Iran does not currently plan to acquire nuclear weapons, due to the severe consequences of such an action, but it is shrewdly using it as a bargaining chip to be recognized as the preeminent power in the region. – Noura Saleh Al-Mujim 

The hallucinations and delusions of ChatGPT

Masrawy, Egypt, March 11

Whenever humanity steps toward something new, we often face exaggerated claims about its capabilities. This is certainly true for ChatGPT, the chatbot powered by artificial intelligence owned by Microsoft and developed by OpenAI. Launched in November 2022, ChatGPT can apparently pass as a real person, providing answers to questions and even writing articles, content and jokes. However, we must be cautious in our judgments of ChatGPT, and not simply rely on the enthusiastic claims of influencers. Instead, our assessments must be based on realistic experiences. 

My preliminary opinion on the use of ChatGPT in the workforce is that it could lead to the loss of millions of jobs, particularly those related to writing and creativity. Through two examples, I have found that ChatGPT can produce dramatically different results: one example showed it passing the theoretical exams for medical students in the US, while another showed it failing the mathematics and science exam for the sixth grade in Singapore. To further test its capabilities, I asked it to write a story about altruism, and what it produced was funny and sad at the same time. 

This raises serious issues about ChatGPT’s ability to understand words with multiple meanings. In a recent experiment, I asked ChatGPT about my identity and received the answer that I was an Egyptian writer and poet, though I had never written poetry apart from a failed exercise in my teenage years. The bot’s responses varied, with some of them being correct, but many of them being misleading. Its final response this morning was that I am one of the most renowned Arab comedians. 

I then asked the bot to name the rulers of Egypt from Muhammad Ali to the present day, and it provided me with inaccurate information, including the inclusion of Muammar Gaddafi. In a second experiment, the same query elicited the answer that Egypt was ruled by a woman named Khadija al-Adl from 1894 to 1907. I was surprised when I asked my bot who Khadija Al-Adly was. He apologized for his incorrect answer, and instead suggested that she was the editor-in-chief of the Al-Masry al-Youm newspaper, though this was also untrue. 

I looked for more information about Khadija al-Adly, but all I could find was that she was an Egyptian writer and journalist. This made me realize that often when people ask “how to do something” the answer they get is usually the first result on a search engine, regardless of its accuracy. Google’s Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan has noted that artificial intelligence can sometimes lead to “hallucinations,” emphasizing the importance of not misleading the public. This warning may be applicable to Google’s competitors, including Microsoft, which owns the ChatGPT application. 

When assessing the accuracy of ChatGPT’s answers, we can observe its significant shortcomings. For example, its answer concerning Khadija al-Adl was unreliable and lacked valid documentation. Therefore, it can be concluded that ChatGPT cannot be trusted. We cannot accept answers that are not inferred, come from unreliable sources, or are distorted by falsehoods and misleading information. Machines, no matter how sophisticated or advanced, will not be able to recognize or comprehend these faulty answers. Thus, the results generated by such algorithms will be neither objective nor fair, and suspicions of bias will persist. 

Journalism is an art. It is not something that can be achieved through the use of ChatGPT or any other tool. High-level journalism cannot be accomplished with scattered and sometimes catastrophic answers that lack accuracy, verification or documentation. ChatGPT’s canned responses cannot replace the human touch. Journalists should not rely solely on the information provided by ChatGPT; instead, they should always verify the information themselves. – Alaa al-Ghatrifi 

Will Putin accept Saudi peace efforts?

An-Nahar, Lebanon, March 10

The statements of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin-Farhan and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, offer cautious optimism in regard to Saudi Arabia’s efforts to resolve the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. This optimism is reminiscent of French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech aboard his plane when returning from Jordan to Paris after the Baghdad II summit. On this occasion, Macron expressed his hope that Saudi Arabia’s influence could be used to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate and end the war in Ukraine, noting that “it must end one day and we must get Putin to negotiate

Today, Saudi Arabia is taking steps toward peace in Ukraine. With the country’s various interests in Russia, it is well-placed to open a dialogue with Putin. This includes a Saudi-Russian partnership in OPEC+, which Russia can use to shield itself from the effects of its invasion of Ukraine, such as decreased exports and price cuts in oil and gas to Europe and India and other Asian countries. 

On the political level, Putin’s isolation following the invasion of Ukraine may prompt him to accept Saudi mediation. The kingdom has a strong relationship with Ukraine and its president, providing valuable financial assistance to Kyiv. Additionally, Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally of the US and Europe, particularly France and Britain. 

However, the issue at hand is Putin’s alliance with Iran, which supplies the country with weapons and drones for its war in Ukraine. Iran also destabilizes the Gulf region, as well as Yemen, the Levant, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. The question is: Will Putin renounce his alliance with Iran? This is currently unlikely, especially since Putin’s ambition is to restore Ukrainian regions that he considers to be Russian territory. 

Despite public opinion in Russia opposing the invasion, Putin is determined to stay in the war, since the Russian people view him as a strong president who stands his ground on the global stage despite the hefty losses he has incurred. Thousands of young Russians have fallen in the war. Putin rules Russia and fights in Ukraine as if he were a modern-day tsar, unilaterally making decisions and frequently changing his army generals. 

President Joe Biden and European leaders are determined to counteract Putin’s expansion and prevent him from occupying Ukraine. To this end, they are prepared to support the Ukrainian army with American and European warplanes. Biden is not like president Barack Obama, who allowed Putin to expand his presence in Syria and disregard the red lines on Syrian chemical weapons. 

Furthermore, Ukraine is in a different position than Syria, as it is located at Europe’s doorstep, and cannot be allowed to be dominated by Putin. It is in the West’s interest to back Saudi Arabia’s efforts to urge Putin to the negotiating table with Ukraine. The question is, will Putin respond to Saudi efforts when he has been convinced that he can revive the era of the Russian tsars through his autocratic rule? 

Western sanctions against Russia and Putin’s wealthy associates will eventually take their toll. Putin should accept Saudi mediation, as the kingdom has a lot of influence with its allies in the West, even though US-Saudi relations have been somewhat strained in the past few years. 

The problem with Putin is that he appears to be working with a friendly mediator but, in reality, his sole objective is to negotiate with the American president. He is hoping that Biden will reach out to him, but this will not happen while the war in Ukraine continues. Putin has even disregarded China’s peace proposal for the region and has refused to engage with it. He believes that he is restoring the Soviet Union’s influence in the face of America through his actions in Ukraine, and therefore Iran is of great importance to him. 

However, this does not stop him from engaging with major countries such as Saudi Arabia, so it is essential to proceed with the talks with caution. – Randa Taqi Al-Din 

Insufficient solutions from the Aqaba Summit

Al-Ittihad, UAE, March 12

The Aqaba Summit highlighted the failings of US policy toward Israel and Palestine. Hosted by Jordan, the gathering of leaders from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt and the US sought to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan and Passover. However, the summit failed to address the key issues, instead opting to settle on a series of outdated half-measures proposed by the US. 

Israel agreed to a temporary freeze on settlement activity and demolitions of Palestinian homes, a decrease in raids on Palestinian population centers, respect of the status quo in Jerusalem, and the release of tax money owed to Palestinians under existing agreements. The PA agreed to suspend its bid for recognition at the UN, boost security cooperation with Israel, and use extra tax revenues to recruit and train – with US backing – new security forces to better monitor armed resistance groups in the occupied territories. 

However, the outcome of the summit demonstrated that these agreements were inadequate and far removed from reality. The Palestinians are still reeling from the recent Israeli operation in Nablus, which escalated into a massacre that left 11 dead and over 100 Palestinians injured. 

At the summit’s conclusion, Palestinian gunmen fatally shot two Israeli settlers in their vehicle in the village of Huwara. Within a few hours, hundreds of extremist Israeli settlers descended upon Huwara, injuring hundreds of Palestinian residents and setting fire to hundreds of homes and cars. Since the new government led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come to power, raids and settler violence have drastically increased with impunity. After the Aqaba Summit, bloody raids, shootings and settler attacks have only continued. 

Following an Israeli raid that resulted in the death of six Palestinians in Jenin, the PA security forces attacked the funeral procession of one of the victims and objected to the raising of Hamas flags, further solidifying the Palestinians’ perception of the Palestinian Authority as an “arm of the Israeli occupation.” 

When news of the Aqaba “agreements” spread in Israel, Netanyahu swiftly declared there would be no settlement freeze. Another minister announced his intention to continue demolishing Palestinian homes in Jerusalem during Ramadan. An Israeli member of Knesset joked that “what happened in Aqaba stays in Aqaba.” These events triggered a chaotic situation in Israel and Palestine. 

The current Israeli government consists of hard-liners who are often violent and refuse to recognize the rights of Palestinians. After the US has supported Israeli governments for many decades, Israelis in power feel they can evade responsibility and accountability. The PA has been weakened by its failure to fulfill the “promise of peace” and its humiliation by the US and Israel, leading to a lack of support from disgruntled voters who now retaliate when provoked. The Palestinians are likewise out of control. 

It is misguided for the US to assume the Aqaba proposals will restore order. Instead of applying a Band-Aid to the festering wound, Washington should have used a scalpel to identify and address the root causes of Israelis’ sense of entitlement and impunity and Palestinians’ anger at continued abuses. Unless the US sets firm boundaries for Israel and tangible negative repercussions for its ongoing misdeeds, the violence will not cease, a new discourse within Israel will not take shape, and the Palestinians will not find solace. 

This change will not come about overnight; decades of political mismanagement have plunged us into this abyss. Getting out of this quagmire requires courage, dedication and foresight. For the sake of safety, until this happens, we must brace ourselves for more trying days ahead. – James Zogby 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.