The renewed focus on nuclear programs by countries in the Middle East stems from concerns that Iran will acquire nuclear arms. An Iranian nuclear weapon may result in an accelerated effort to develop nuclear arms in many of the countries in the region.
The most likely candidate for entering the race for nuclear arms is Turkey. Ankara considers a nuclear Iran a dangerous rival that might take advantage of its arsenal to claim a hegemonic role in the region at Turkey's expense.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Morocco and maybe even Jordan might join the fray for nuclear arms. All have declared recently that they intend to develop nuclear weapons for peaceful purposes.
Of course, no one believes that the countries controlling enormous fossil fuel reserves have suddenly realized that nuclear technology - which has been around for six decades - can meet their energy needs.
The problem is that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), in which all these countries are members, allows many of the steps necessary for the development of nuclear weapons to occur under the guise of civilian nuclear programs. For example, under the NPT's rules, uranium enrichment is possible, which is a critical component of making nuclear arms.
The more Iran progresses in its nuclear program, the more the countries in the region discuss their own nuclear plans. As early as 2004, official sources in Saudi Arabia announced that they are considering the possibility of purchasing, or leasing, nuclear weapons from Pakistan or China. Earlier, Egypt announced that it is developing a large nuclear installation for water desalination and said that it had received "sensitive technology" from Libya.
Syria also declared that it intends to enrich uranium, and Algeria is building a second nuclear reactor (for research), and also signed in January 2006 a cooperation agreement with Russia on nuclear technology.
In late 2006, Saudi Arabia and the five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council agreed to appoint a committee of experts to explore the possibilities of using nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Even Jordan's King Abdullah declared, in January, that the nuclear situation in the Middle East had changed, and in July he discussed with Canada's prime minister the purchase of a heavy water nuclear plant.
The Israeli message to European countries hesitating to impose severe sanctions against Iran is that nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is dangerous not only to Israel but the entire world.
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