Moscow and Cairo

Russia and Egypt must do more to help thwart a nuclear Iran.

mubarak moscow 224 ap (photo credit: AP)
mubarak moscow 224 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, visiting Moscow during the last two days to further "nuclear cooperation" between his country and Russia, unleashed a vituperative attack on Israel's nuclear capability, which he likened to "Iran's nuclear project." In some respects this is old news. Mubarak has long been in the habit of turning Israel's alleged A-bomb into his punching bag. His tone in the interviews to the Russian press didn't deviate from his norm. Mubarak's customary hostility to Israel's reputed nuclear capability has always presented a jarring contrast with Egypt's role as Israel's most veteran peace-partner in the Arab world. His unconcealed antagonism hardly becomes a friendly neighbor. Mubarak also knows that Israel's nuclear activity dates back nearly half a century, during which it has conducted itself with the utmost responsibility expected of the Western democracy that it is. In other words, Mubarak knows there's no risk of nuclear aggression by Israel, a fact that renders his analogy between Israel and Iran particularly galling. While Israel is a liberal and transparent society, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blatantly threatens to annihilate the Jewish state, sponsors terrorism and tramples human rights. Iran answers all the criteria of a rogue state whose possession of nukes should alarm not only Israel. If his desired effect is to deflect onto Jerusalem some of the pressure directed at Teheran, then Mubarak's obvious aim is to weaken Israel - again, hardly the conduct expected from a truly friendly neighbor. But it gets worse. The Egyptian president's oft-repeated refrain is that Israel exacerbates the danger of nuclear proliferation by drawing attention away from the imminent Iranian menace. By saying this, Mubarak does precisely the reverse of what he claims to want - he intensifies the nuclear arms race. That race can be preempted first and foremost by preventing Teheran from attaining bomb-manufacturing know-how. If Iran isn't stopped, its nuclear warheads will provide impetus for almost the entire erratic Middle East to follow suit, owing to the contention that the Shi'ite bomb must be countered by Sunni bombs. Indeed, already Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, UAE, Yemen, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Mubarak's own Egypt are lining up for nuclear ventures. While peaceful nuclear power is legitimate and cannot be readily begrudged, there's no denying that none of the above Arab states is a stable democracy. Egypt is a glaring case in point. Mubarak is in his 80th year. There's no telling who will succeed him and what the next regime's agenda might be. Moreover, Egypt is rife with Muslim Brotherhood networks. There's no guarantee that Egypt won't go the way Iran did. If nuclear means amassed by Mubarak later fell into radical Islamist hands, Egypt could be the next global hazard, with Israel in the direct line of fire, as it is with Iran. Ahmadinejad's fiery Israel-baiting incitement already tempts indolent statesmen to belittle the Iranian danger as Israel's problem. Some in the international community lethargically pawn the onus off on Israel as a pretext to do nothing themselves. Their inaction in turn further fans the nuclear arms race, where Russia is a conspicuous offender. By signing a nuclear cooperation deal with Egypt, Russia has positioned itself as a prime bidder for Egypt's nuclear reactor tender. Russia is responsible for the Iranian reactor in Bushehr and its record in furthering Teheran's nuclear ambitions has been nothing if not disquieting. Now Moscow may be seeking to repeat its Iranian marketing success to the detriment of international security. The free world might be well advised to stop pretending that Russia is on its side. It is high time Moscow is shown that reckless acts generate consequences. Russia, for instance, was granted G-8 membership, although its economy hardly merits the honor. It may be prudent to make clear to the Kremlin that states that imperil the world don't belong in the world's most elite club. The real problem, of course, is the Islamic Republic, not Russia or Egypt. But the collaboration of the latter two to foster a new nuclear arms race illustrates just one of the major dangers of allowing Iran to go nuclear, and the need for Moscow and Cairo to do more to help thwart this eventuality rather than acting as if it is a fait accompli.