Israel remains the impediment to a nuclear-free region

Arabic-language newspapers consider lessons Iraqi Kurds could learn from Sudan's split, and the French deadline for violence to cease in Syria.

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Efforts to stop Iran's nuclear programme are fair - if a denuclearisation of Israel takes place

Israel's right-wing hawks, led by the Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu, have a knack for blowing external threats out of proportion, particularly Iran, against the wisdom of the dictum "people in glass houses should not be throwing stones", noted the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi in an editorial at the weekend.

Last week, in a speech celebrating Israel's so-called "Independence Day", the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, said that Iran was going to set off a regional nuclear arms race if it pursues its nuclear programme, adding: "Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt will be impelled to enter that race," Al Quds Al Arabi quoted the minister as saying.

"Well, that's really interesting," the newspaper commented. "The truth is that a nuclear arms race is bound to start in the region sooner or later, whether Iran has nuclear weapons or not. And Israel is to blame.

"Israel's monopoly over nuclear capability [in the Middle East] must be broken, especially in this new context of democratic change in the region."

To be sure, Israeli politicians are a mixed bag. Mr Netanyahu and his defence minister, Mr Barak, keep overstating the Iranian threat and try to present the option of a strike against Iran as the only way to stop Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is a group of senior Israeli military officials - like Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of the Israeli army, and Shaul Mofaz, the newly elected head of the Kadima party - who do not see Iran's capabilities through a magnifier, and as such advocate a less frenetic approach to the Islamic Republic.

Indeed, the attitude of the incumbent Israeli government is deeply paradoxical. Israel asks others not to do what it has always done: seeking regional supremacy through military (nuclear) might.

Yet, no western power is ready to acknowledge that Israel plays a big part of the nuclear crisis in the Middle East, and that denuclearising Israel would make sense if the intent was really to make the whole region and its people nuclear-threat-free.

"Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have, in fact, long missed out on building nuclear facilities with the purpose of producing nuclear deterrents against Israel," the newspaper said. "That would have kept Israel in check and forced it to honour international treaties."

None of these three nations, which are moderate and pro-West, should get involved in military action against Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

"And if they have to, their involvement must not be for nothing; in return, they must obtain solid pledges from the United States and the other western powers to denuclearise the whole Middle East, which won't happen without denuclearising Israel."

Sudan split is lesson for Kurds to ponder

Like South Sudan, which split from Sudan after a referendum last summer, Iraqi Kurdistan may soon be voting for its own independence from the rest of Iraq, snubbing the hard lesson that could be learnt from the Sudanese experience, wrote columnist Hazem Saghiya in yesterday's edition of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

The violence that is bordering on full-out war between Sudan and South Sudan these days does not augur well for any territory mulling secession.

Armies from Khartoum and Juba are locking horns over the oil-rich town of Heglig, only months after the South separated. The same is likely to happen over the oil-rich Kirkuk, for instance, should Iraqi Kurdistan opt to go it alone.

Massoud Barzani, the president of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, announced that by the end of this summer the Kurds will vote in a referendum on whether to remain part of Iraq or not. Some Kurds are already expressing fears that the reaction of the central government in Baghdad may involve US-made fighter jets, the writer said.

If there is anything to retain from the Sudanese experience, it is the fact that precipitated secession does not bring an end to all woes.

If Iraqi Kurdistan separates from Iraq, the most likely outcome would be one of two evils: all-out war, or perpetual border hostilities.

Will May 5 be Syria's 'moment of truth'?

France has set a May 5 deadline for President Bashar Al Assad's regime to show evidence of its compliance with the peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan to end the violence in Syria. Otherwise Paris will demand that the UN Security Council issue a resolution authorising the use of military force, according to an article yesterday by Mazen Hammad, a columnist with the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

"Russia and China will surely stand in the way of that motion," the writer noted. "But given that the crisis in Syria is still escalating, western powers may consider pressing ahead with military action anyway, bypassing the Security Council."

The situation in Syria is still "bleak", more than two weeks after Mr Annan's six-point peace plan came into effect. The plan provides for a complete cease-fire, and orders Damascus to withdraw its tanks from residential areas.

So far only 15, out of 300 foreign monitors, have managed to enter Syria. And they have noted more than 2,000 government breaches to the ceasefire. The daily death toll stands at around 50.

May 5 is also when Mr Annan will present his report on Syria. So would it really be the "moment of truth" that the French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, talked about?

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi