x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Israel's secretive atomic programme to be targeted by Muslim nations

Muslim nations are seeking a reprimand for Israel at next month's 154-nation IAEA nuclear meeting for thwarting 'all initiatives to free the region of weapons of mass destruction'.

VIENNA // Muslim nations and Israel are heading for a confrontation at a 154-nation nuclear meeting next month over an Arab initiative to criticise Israel's secretive atomic programme.

Documents submitted for that gathering show that Arab nations are seeking Israel's censure, a move it says is a sideshow that deflects attention from the real danger to Mideast peace - Iran.

In asking September's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting to reprimand Israel, Jordan says Israel is guilty of thwarting "all initiatives to free the region of the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction, and in particular of nuclear weapons".

Israel, in turn, warns that the Arab initiative is "serving Iran's attempt to divert the attention of the international community ... [from] its quest for nuclear weapons".

Israel is assumed to be the only Middle East country with such arms.

But it refuses to either confirm or deny its status. Israel's Arab neighbours have demanded it open its nuclear activities to full inspection by the IAEA - a condition Israel says it can consider only after peace rules in the Middle East.

But Arab nations insists peace can come only if Israel takes the steps it demands.

Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful means but refuses to cooperate with an IAEA probe of its alleged secret work on nuclear weapons. The Islamic republic also continues to enrich uranium, which Iran's IAEA envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, says his country will not suspend "even for a second".

The initiative to censure Israel at the IAEA meeting comes from the 17 Arab members of the nuclear agency. But it is expected to be supported by Iran as well as most if not all the other Muslim countries meaning it has a good chance of passing.

Ehud Azoulay, Israel's chief IAEA delegate, questioned whether Arab nations have the moral right to point fingers.

He says some have "a long, unflattering history of violating international obligations and other norms of the international community" - an apparent poke at Syria, itself suspected of hiding a nuclear programme and the target of condemnation for atrocities attributed to regime troops fighting insurgents.