NUCLEAR FUNDAMENTALISM: THE IRANIAN CONNECTION

by Gad Yaacobi
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations

1 March 1995
New York Newsday

Not everyone is happy with the prospect of peace in the Middle East. Witness the growing ranks of Islamic fundamentalist movements throughout the region. False prophets have preyed on the despair of the poor, gaining adherents by promising instant salvation through bloodshed and violence. But in the end, this offers them only catharsis, not a solution to the poverty and distress that they seek to escape.

Leaders of these fundamentalist groups understand that peace offers the solution they cannot. They also understand that in a peaceful, future-oriented Middle East, they will be relics of the past. Every handshake, every agreement, threatens to replace their ideology of hate with an opportunity for hope. And so, ironically, the very successes of peace process have, perhaps, led them to step up their efforts to destroy any possibility for a better future.

But the peace process is not the only target. Acts of terrorism, like the one in January that killed 21 young Israelis at a bus stop, are part of a campaign by radical fundamentalists to take control of the entire region. They seek to destroy Israel and to destabilize (and eventually overthrow) moderate Arab governments in countries like Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia. They have already seized power in Sudan and are on the verge of success in Algeria. Their jihad also targets these countries’ Western allies, spreading terror and death throughout the world. Witness the bombing of the World Trade Center and the allegations levelled at Sheikh Omar Abd El-Rahman.

Let us make no mistake about it: Terrorist organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Hizballah do not function alone. Without Iran and other countries they would be powerless. The Shekaki faction of Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bus-stop attack from his office in Damascus. Yet while Syria plays a key role, the principle sponsor of these groups is still Iran, which provides most of the support, guidance, training, weapons, financing and inspiration.

But Iran is not satisfied with using only conventional terrorism as a means to spread the Islamic revolution. Rather, it prefers the nuclear option. Accordingly, it’s program to develop a nuclear arsenal is well under way. US and Israeli intelligence project that even without outside help, Iran will hold a nuclear bomb in its grip within seven to fifteen years. Without outside assistance.

But such assistance seems to be forthcoming. Tehran is paying the Russians $800 million to complete an Iranian nuclear power plant that has been out of commission since Khomeni’s revolution interrupted the construction. Expertise and material are pouring in from China and North Korea. Western countries continue to maintain economic ties and provide dual-use technologies. Seven to fifteen years would, therefore, appear to be a conservative estimate. In reality, it could be much less.

Let us not fool ourselves by thinking that paper agreements will stop Iran from pursuing its nuclear program. The Non-Proliferation Treaty has not stopped Iran. Clearly it did not stop Iraq. Israel in 1981 and the United States in 1991 stopped Iraq. It is time for all parties, especially those in the Middle East, to recognize that Iran and Iraq’s commitments under the NPT hardly were worth the ink they used to sign it. More credible solutions will have to be found.

With its expansionist ideology, opposition to the peace process, sponsorship of terrorism and nuclear ambitions, Iran poses the greatest long-term danger to the stability of the Middle East. Responsibility to confront the threat cannot rest with the countries of the region alone. If Iran builds a nuclear arsenal, no one is safe, regardless of whether one sits in Tel Aviv, Riyadh, or New York. Therefore, the entire international community must bear the solemn responsibility to ensure that Iran will not be able to cast a nuclear shadow over the region and the world.

Will today’s short-sightedness threaten us all tomorrow? Or will the enlightened countries face up to the fact Iran can be contained only by cutting all ties and assistance? The peace and security of millions of lives, in the Middle East and beyond, depend on how the world answers these questions.