Israel backs Arabs on N-power strategy Abraham Rabinovich, Jerusalem 12dec06
A DECLARATION by Arab Gulf states that they intend to pursue a nuclear energy program has drawn a surprising welcome from Israeli officials.
Leaders of six Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, ordered a feasibility study of a joint atomic energy program at the conclusion of a two-day summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council in Riyadh.
The oil-rich countries, all predominantly Sunni Arab states, made it clear their declaration was intended to prod the West into stopping Shia Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, lest the Sunni Arab world also embark on a nuclear arms race.
Israel has always feared the Arab world obtaining nuclear arms. However, it is now encouraging an unspoken alliance with Sunni states, which share an interest in curbing the growth of Iranian power.
Israeli officials in Jerusalem said they viewed "positively" the pressure that Gulf states were beginning to direct at Iran, including the atomic announcement. "This move is directed against Iran," said an official, who requested anonymity.
"You have a situation where these countries see Iran going full-steam ahead without any external interference.
"They want to send a clear message to major countries that more needs to be done."
This assessment was echoed by Abdelaziz Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Centre, in Dubai. "They are trying to say that if the Iranian program continues, you (the West) will oblige us to become nuclear-capable too."
The Gulf Co-operation Council is made up of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
Israeli officials say non-Gulf Sunni nations, such as Egypt and Jordan, share the council's concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
Israel has felt itself increasingly exposed to the Iranian nuclear threat as Europe and even the US appear to step back from confrontation with Tehran, whose leaders have called for Israel's destruction.
News of the council's announcement came amid persistent and conflicting reports in the Israeli media that the army was preparing for a major war with Syria, and perhaps Hezbollah, next year.
The comments came days after a report by a high-level USpanel recommended that Israel relaunch peace talks with Syria. The Baker-Hamilton report said Israel should return the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, as part of a peace deal with Damascus.