Steinitz: Sunni-Shi’ite nuke race will result if Iranian program isn’t stopped

Kuperwasser: Regional powers feel US turning on its allies, Palestinians not ready for peace.

Yuval Steinitz 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yuval Steinitz 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
If Iran remains a nuclear threshold state, there will be a Sunni- Shi’ite nuclear arms race, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Wednesday.
Any agreement with world powers must dismantle Iran’s nuclear program, he continued at a conference on Regional Upheavals, held by the Israel and Middle East studies department at Ariel University.
“The Middle East has gone mad,” said Steinitz, adding that nobody had expected what has happened in the Middle East over the past few years.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, said people in the Middle East do not understand what the US’s policy is, as it has turned on its traditional allies in the region and drawn closer to Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.
It was bewildering for them to see the US favoring the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Kuperwasser said. “Don’t they [the US administration] understand that it is a worldwide Islamist organization that opposes the West?” “What do the Americans want, and do they know what they want,” people ask, he said. “The answer is no, they don’t know and we don’t know.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, appears serious to observers in the region, Kuperwasser said. “He does what he says” – you can count on him to save his allies, people think.
“Precisely when the US position is weakening, it sharpens Israel’s position as an island of regional stability,” he said.
The region is experiencing an “existential war” where the players are fighting for their lives, said Kuperwasser.
Regarding the negotiations with the Palestinians, he asserted that the only way for Israel to guarantee its security after an agreement would be to carry out the necessary security activities itself.
“If it was possible to make peace with the Palestinians, we would have been prepared to make significant concessions, mainly in the area of land,” he said.
Furthermore, the Palestinians are not willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Kuperwasser said.
Events in each country are affecting the entire Middle East, he explained. The push-back against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt led a regional push-back against Islamist regimes such as in Turkey.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post what Israel’s interests were in Syria, Kuperwasser responded that Israel did not want to interfere, but it “cannot remain quiet about what is going on there,” referring to the humanitarian catastrophe.
Our interest is to provide humanitarian aid and to prevent attacks on the Golan border, he said, adding that it could not be ruled out that in the long-run, a nationalist Sunni regime that was not Islamist could come to power in Syria.
Prof. Alexander Bligh, director of the Middle East Research Center at Ariel University, said that Saudi Arabia was at a crossroads.
The kingdom had never faced so many challenges. Saudi Arabia today was a fully nonaligned country, maintaining relations with the US and Russia and making sure to buy out any possible intra-Arab opposition, he said.
The increased tensions between Saudi Arabia and the US are very important, Bligh told the Post.
Asked about rumors of Saudi-Israeli cooperation, he said the countries “share interests, but it does not mean they are working together as a coalition.”
Pinhas Inbari, a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told the Post that economics and the struggle to enter modernity were the root causes behind the Arab uprisings.