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WMD Issues in the Middle East. Fred Wehling Monterey Institute of International Studies Monterey, California, USA. Presentation Outline. Regional overview of WMD and nonproliferation Regional obstacles to nonproliferation WMD capabilities of regional states A Zone Free of WMD?

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wmd issues in the middle east

WMD Issues in the Middle East

Fred Wehling

Monterey Institute

of International Studies

Monterey, California, USA

presentation outline
Presentation Outline
  • Regional overview of WMD and nonproliferation
  • Regional obstacles to nonproliferation
  • WMD capabilities of regional states
  • A Zone Free of WMD?
  • Conclusions
proceed with caution
Proceed with Caution
  • The Middle East is a complex region that provokes strong emotions
  • Seeking information and opinions from a variety of viewpoints is very important
    • Check sources carefully
    • Be mindful of a sources’ goals & perspectives
  • Best to treat all information with caution and all opinions with respect
signature of middle east states on treaties on weapons of mass destruction
Signature of Middle East States on Treaties on Weapons of Mass Destruction


Algeria ●● ●

Egypt ●● ●

Iran ●● ●●

Iraq ●●●●

Israel ● ●

Lebanon ●●●

Libya ● ●●●

Saudi Arabia ● ●●

Sudan ● ●●

Syria ● ●

Turkey ●● ●●

Yemen ●● ●●

three obstacles
Three Obstacles
  • Three serious obstacles impede nonproliferation and disarmament in the Middle East
    • Instability
    • Asymmetry
    • Opacity
a region of instability
A Region of Instability
  • The Middle East is a conflict-prone region
    • Heavily militarized.
    • Major interstate wars and crises.
    • Militarized internal conflicts in most states.
    • Population and environmental stress
  • History of WMD use
    • By Egypt in Yemen
    • By Iraq in Iran-Iraq War (1981-88)
    • By Iraq to massacre Kurdish population
  • Multi-polar political and strategic structure
    • No single dominant state
    • No bipolar military blocs
  • Overlapping and crosscutting conflicts
    • Palestinians v Israel
    • Arab states v Israel
    • Iran v Saudi Arabia
    • Continued conflict in Iraq
a region of asymmetry
A Region of Asymmetry
  • Regional strategic balances are asymmetric
    • Most states are strong in one aspect of military potential and weak in others:
      • Israel is technologically strong but numerically weak.
      • Egypt is technologically weak but numerically strong.
  • States look to WMD to offset potential opponents’ advantages
    • Syrian chemical weapons deter both Israeli nuclear weapons and Iraqi conventional forces.
    • Ballistic missiles may strike targets despite opponents’ air superiority, and can be less expensive to maintain than air forces.
    • Israel & Egypt are very vulnerable to a well placed nuclear attack.
a region of opacity
A Region of Opacity
  • You can’t negotiate about something that doesn’t officially exist
    • Israel does not officially acknowledge its nuclear weapons capability
    • Arab states deny that they posses any WMD
    • Iran denies development of nuclear weapons
  • Lack of transparency keeps nonproliferation stuck at the starting gate
    • Transparency is viewed as a threat or a concession
    • Lack of transparency fuels mistrust
israel and wmd
Israel and WMD
  • Israel has a highly advanced conventional military, nuclear weapons program, and offensive and defensive missiles.
  • Israel's nuclear weapons are intended to deter its more numerous enemies and enhance its foreign policy and regional aspirations.
israel s nuclear program
Israel’s Nuclear Program
  • Ben Gurion, Israel's first PM, clandestinely established the program in the late 1950s.
  • Program centered at the Negev Nuclear Research Center, outside the town of Dimona.
  • Based on estimates of the plutonium production capacity of the Dimona reactor, Israel has approximately 100-200 nuclear explosive devices.
  • Israel declared that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
  • Policy of opacity.
  • Has not signed the NPT.
iraq and wmd
Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq invested more resources into nuclear, biological, chemical, and missile programs than any other developing country

Baghdad wanted to use nuclear weapons for strategic deterrence

Iraq’s WMD programs were linked to Saddam’s ambitions to remain in power and to make Iraq a leader in the Gulf and the Arab world

Iraq and WMD
iraq s nuclear program
Iraq’s Nuclear Program
  • Iraq began efforts in the civilian nuclear field in the late 1960s.
  • In the early 1970s, a "bomb program" begins under Vice-President Saddam Hussein.
  • Baghdad acquired a French nuclear reactor in 1975.
  • Clandestine uranium enrichment facilities were located in Tuwaitha.
  • Israel destroyed the Osiraq reactor on June 7, 1981 in an air strike.
  • As a result, Iraq increased spending on its programs many folds, and build covert underground facilities.
  • By 1990, Iraq had a full fledged covert nuclear weapon program.
iraqi wmd 1991 2003
Iraqi WMD 1991-2003
  • In 1991, Baghdad had a substantial arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and was probably one to three years away from building a nuclear weapon.
  • Iraq essentially destroyed its weapons of mass destruction in 1991 following the Gulf war and the imposition of economic sanctions.
  • After the Gulf War of 1991, UN inspectors worked to uncover history and remnants of Iraq’s nuclear program until IAEA inspectors were expelled in 1998
  • Iraq never fully cooperated with IAEA or UN inspectors, leading to suspicions that some remnants of CW and BW arsenals and nuclear program still existed
  • These suspicions were a major factor leading to US-led military operations in 2003
isg duelfer report 9 30 04
ISG Duelfer Report 9/30/04

Key findings:

  • Iraq did not possess stockpiles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in 2003
  • Iraq essentially destroyed its weapons of mass destruction in 1991 following the Gulf war and the imposition of economic sanctions.
  • After sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy recovered Saddam Hussein intended to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability.
  • Allegedly Saddam pursued an ambiguous posture in order not to look weak and to deter Iran
iran and wmd
Iran and WMD
  • Iran's WMD programs are meant to deter its adversaries (including Israel and the U.S.) and to gain influence in the Persian Gulf
  • These weapon systems can also be seen as a response to Iran's experience as a victim of chemical and missile attacks during the Iran-Iraq war.
iran s nuclear history
Iran’s Nuclear History
  • Iran acceded to the NPT in 1970.
  • In 1975, Iran initiated a nuclear power program, and a small nuclear weapon research program at the same time
  • The 1979 revolution ended all nuclear efforts until 1984, when Iran revived the nuclear power program and reportedly began covert procurement for a nuclear weapons program
iran s nuclear program
Iran’s Nuclear Program
  • Iran already possess the technology it needs to develop first-generation nuclear weapons
  • Claims 5,000 centrifuges in operation; target is 9,000 operational in cascades by end 2009
  • Has enough uranium for one bomb, but has not enriched it to weapons-useable levels (IAEA report Nov 2008)
  • Could produce enough for one bomb by 2010
  • If Iran develops NW, other regional states may follow or increase other WMD capability
    • Saudi Arabia
    • Turkey
    • Israel
iran and the iaea
Iran and the IAEA
  • Oct 2003: Iran announces “suspension” of U enrichment and “suspends” weapons development (acc. to US NIE)
  • Signs Additional Protocol with IAEA December 2003 but has not ratified or fully implemented
  • Nov 2005: IAEA finds Iran not in compliance with NPT
  • Jan 2006: Iran re-activates enrichment plant at Natanz, ending suspension of U enrichment
  • March 2006: IAEA reports Iran to UN Security Council. Iran calls this action “illegal, illogical and politically motivated”
  • Dec 2006: UNSC applies limited sanctions. P5+1(Germany) offer incentive package if Iran suspends enrichment and implements AP
  • Aug. 2007: After leadership changes, Iran agrees with IAEA on timetable to resolve outstanding questions by Nov. 2007 but deadline passes without resolution
  • Sep 2009: Suspected uranium enrichment site discovered at Qom
  • Sep 2009 report finds Iran still progressing with enrichment and not substantively addressing questions on weapons program; leaked annex contains conclusion that Iran has "sufficient information" to make a nuclear weapon and has "probably tested" a key component
iran s nuclear banknote
Iran’s Nuclear Banknote
  • “If knowledge is in the Pleiades, men from Persia will find it.”
    • The Prophet Mohammad
syria and wmd
Syria and WMD
  • While constrained by limited resources, Syria has shown interest in WMD and delivery systems, especially chemical weapons (CW) and ballistic missiles.
  • Sep. 2007: Israel attacks a partially constructed nuclear reactor, probably of North Korean design, at Al Kibar
  • Allegedly received direct assistance from USSR/Russia, Iran, and North Korea
al kibar reactor site
Al-Kibar Reactor Site



Image credit: Digital Globe-ISIS

egypt and wmd
Egypt and WMD
  • Egypt has a substantial CW capability and a moderately advanced missile program.
  • Cairo has been a leader in promoting a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East.
  • Strongest critic of Israel’s nuclear weapons program
  • Refused to sign the CWC
  • May reconsider nuclear activities if Iran develops nuclear weapons
libya and wmd
Libya and WMD
  • Libya’s pursuit of a WMD arsenal stemmed from its desire for a strategic deterrent against Israel and the U.S.
  • Libya’s nuclear aspirations were also aimed at enhancing Qadhdhafi’s position in the region.
  • Developed CW and BW capabilities and put major effort into nuclear weapons program
libya s voluntary disarmament
Libya’s Voluntary Disarmament
  • December 19, 2003: Following negotiations with U.K. and U.S., Libya announces unilateral disarmament of all WMD programs
  • Motivated by a combination of positive and negative incentives
    • Fear of possible U.S. military action
    • Commercial incentives, esp. with Italy
  • Significance of Libya’s WMD disarmament
    • Removes a significant regional WMD threat
    • Provides a good example of peaceful disarmament.
    • Enables improved antiterrorist cooperation
a middle east wmd free zone
A Middle East WMD Free Zone?
  • Repeated UN General Assembly resolutions calling for NWFZ since 1974
  • Discussed in Arms Control and Regional Security talks in early 1990s (Madrid peace process)
  • Middle East Resolution of 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference explicitly calls for Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • A major objective for Egypt in the NPT review process
  • Both Iran and Israel formally support the idea, but their undeclared nuclear activities speak louder
  • Likely to be major issue at 2010 NPT RevCon
  • The incentives for and risks of proliferation in the Middle East remain significant
  • Progress in nonproliferation, such as a Zone Free of WMD, depends on complex set of political and strategic factors
  • Iranian development of nuclear weapons a distinct possibility but not inevitable; nuclear program will have serious repercussions as long as questions remain