Israel's nuclear weapons are the true Middle East threat, Iran warns UN

Iran's envoy to the UN warned that Israel's nuclear weapons are the true threat to Middle East peace.

View of the Israeli nuclear facility in the Negev Desert outside Dimona  (photo credit: JIM HOLLANDER / POOL / REUTERS)
View of the Israeli nuclear facility in the Negev Desert outside Dimona
(photo credit: JIM HOLLANDER / POOL / REUTERS)

Israel’s atomic weapons are the true threat to Middle East peace, the Iranian and Syrian envoys alleged to the United Nations as they called on the Jewish state to support a regional nuclear-free zone.

“Nuclear weapons in the hands of this regime pose the most serious threat to the security of all states in the Middle East,” the Iranian envoy told the General Assembly’s First Committee during a discussion Tuesday on global nuclear disarmament.

Israel is suspected to be a nuclear power, but has never confirmed or admitted to possessing nuclear weapons.

Countries such as Iran and Syria have long accused it of being a secret nuclear power, particularly in rebuttal to accusations by Israel of Iran’s pursuit of atomic weapons and Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its citizens.

Israel has attempted “to portray Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities” as a “challenge to regional stability” in order to distract attention away from its own “nuclear weapon arsenals as well as clandestine and unsafe nuclear installations,” the Iranian envoy said.

Israel had not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), he noted, and hampers the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Nor has Israel allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect any of its nuclear weapons facilities, he charged.

Both he and the Syrian envoy spoke in response to a speech by Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan that took both of their countries to task for noncompliance with treaties to which Israel itself is not a full party.

Erdan spoke of Syria’s violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a document Israel has signed but never ratified.

Two reports published last year spoke of four Syrian chemical weapons attacks against its own citizens in 2017 and in 2018, he said, adding that the Assad regime had done this even though it had acceded to the CWC.

“It is vital that the international community remains vigilant in dealing with this challenge of the noncompliance by Syria, and also continues investigating Syria’s current abilities and activities in regard to its chemical weapons program,” Erdan said.

The ambassador also called on the international community to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons.

“Coming to terms with Iran becoming a threshold nuclear state puts world peace in the balance and will remain a black stain on the history of the free world,” he said.

At a late point in the debate, a representative of the Israeli mission reminded the General Assembly that Iran is the main sponsor of global terrorism, including through the provision of arms.

Overall, Erdan spoke of the “worrisome escalation in the realm of arms control,” charging that the Middle East “is still struggling with a chronic lack of arms control norms and principles.

“There is an urgent need to focus on the implementation, compliance and verification of the obligations of states,” he said.

Erdan then attempted to explain why available instruments which Israel has not signed, such as the NPT, are not adequate to handle arms control issues in the Middle East.

“The Non-Proliferation Treaty in itself does not provide a remedy for the unique security challenges of the region, let alone the repeated violations of the treaty by some of its member states. Four of the five cases of serious violations of the NPT took place in the Middle East,” he said.

“Israel wishes to emphasize its long-standing view that the Treaty [on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons] and other weapons of mass destruction, which Israel does not support, does not create, contribute to the development of, or indicate the existence of customary law related to the subject or the content of the treaty,” he said.

“Initiatives such as the conference on a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and other weapons of mass destruction go against the guidelines and principles of the Nuclear Weapons Free Zone,” the ambassador said.

Iran, in its remarks, also spoke about Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. At no point did its envoy use the word “Israel,” preferring instead “the Zionist regime.”

The Iranian envoy accused Israel of “genocide against the Palestinians and “nuclear terrorism” against them.

Prior to the end of 2021, the First Committee is expected to approve a resolution, called “The risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East,” put forward by Arab states, including Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates as well as the Palestinian Authority.

Among its stipulations is a call on Israel to sign and ratify the NPT, noting that it is the only country in the region that hasn’t done so.