From an old nuclear order to a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction

By Issam Makhoul *

The International Haifa Conference for a Middle East Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) is being held in an extremely important international situation. This international conference is the first of its kind in Israel. It is being held at the right time, in the right place, and revolves around the right question, which is the most pressing question regarding the future of the peoples of the region.

Demonstration in Tel-Aviv against nuclear weapons (Photo: The Israeli Disarmament Movement)

Demonstration in Tel-Aviv against nuclear weapons (Photo: The Israeli Disarmament Movement)

It so happens to be, that the conference is being held just a short time after the historic agreement was reached in Geneva between Iran and the Six Powers. This conference is also held just a few months after the agreement on dismantling the Syrian Chemical weapons arsenal; an agreement that was reached as part of a diplomatic process, which put a stop to the aggressive war plans of the United States against Syria.

We did not plan in advance that the conference will be held so close to the signing of these two important international agreements, but this proximity further emphasizes the importance of holding the Haifa Conference, and highlights the relevance of the call that will be issued from this historic conference: The security of Israel will not be safeguarded by disastrous war threats, but by achieving a political solution, in the framework of a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East.

This is the new wind that is blowing from Geneva, this is the new wind that is blowing from the agreement reached in Syria about their Chemical weapons arsenal, and this is the wind blowing on all the peoples of the region and the world in this day and age. For this message to be realized, all sides are needed to attend the UN-sponsored Helsinki Conference on a WMD and Nuclear Weapons’ Free Zone in the Middle East.

This conference aims to bring to the Israeli people the message that its security, its peace and prosperity will not be met through disastrous wars, through hundreds of nuclear warheads stored in Israel, through German-made nuclear submarines, through US manufactured nuclear cruise missiles, or through a French-made nuclear reactor in the southern Israeli town of Dimona. Peace and security can be achieved through a complete nuclear disarmament in the Middle East, through the abolition of all weapons of mass destruction, and through adopting a sincere policy that aims to achieve a just peace with the Palestinian people and with all the countries of the region. This is the option that the Israeli government tries to push aside and prevent from materializing.

It is interesting to note that while Israel constantly repeats the mantra on the supposedly existential threat that hangs over its head – if and when any of the countries in the region will attempt to come in possession of nuclear weapons – at the same time, it is the first to oppose the idea of a Nuclear-Free zone in the Middle East.

Our Conference reveals the fact, that more and more activists and organizations, both in Israel and abroad, who support nuclear disarmament in the Middle East, are coming to adopt the call we put forward last December in Helsinki. There, in the Alternative Helsinki Conference – which was convened after the Israeli government has boycotted the official Helsinki Conference – we’ve put forward the challenge: If Israel will not come to Helsinki – then Helsinki will come to Israel, and with it – the message of a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East. This is what’s happening here today.

What characterizes the activists and the organizations which have convened here today, in a much broader coalition than ever before seen in Israel, is that they recognize the borderline which separates between the old nuclear order and the new anti-nuclear order.

It seems that what worries Prime Minister Netanyahu the most, is not the possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb – which is dwarfed by the Israeli arsenal of 200 nuclear warheads – but rather he is worried by the role that Iran begins to play, that of a key regional player which can no longer be isolated. If the question is who will isolate whom – then clearly Netanyahu’s hand is inferior. Contrary to what this government says, the Geneva agreement did not undermine the security of the Israeli citizens. What was undermined is his political line of non-stop threats of regional war.

Instead of addressing the question of how to destroy the Iranian nuclear project by military means, the real interest of all peoples in the Middle East, including the Israeli and Iranian peoples, is to safeguard their security, not through nuclear arsenals and wars of aggression but through denuclearization of all states in the region. The opposition to the nuclear threat cannot be a selective issue and should not be handled with double standards.

Today humanity has reached a turning point. The old nuclear order which was created with the dropping of the U.S. nuclear bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has come to a dead end. The peoples of the world, including the peoples of the Middle East, have to choose between two options: Either, more and more countries, who are willing to do so and have the capability, will join the nuclear club, or humanity will choose to live in a world free of nuclear weapons.

It is interesting to note, how Israel claims that the problem is not with nuclear weapons per-se, but with nuclear weapons supposedly “falling into the wrong hands, into non-democratic hands”. Yet in the past two weeks, much had been published about the cooperation between the Israeli government and the Saudi Kingdom – the very democratic and very responsible kingdom – with both sides trying to put barriers to the success of the agreement reached in Geneva.

What is clear now, and becomes clearer every day, is that more and more forces in the world are challenging the “right” of a handful of states to have a nuclear monopoly, and are refusing to subject themselves to this reality. The centers of nuclear tensions through out the world revolve around nuclear countries, including Israel, that insist on maintaining their monopoly, on the one hand, and countries that are challenging this monopoly, on the other. This insistence on nuclear monopoly, in the Middle East in particular, jeopardizes the cause of world peace and the well-being of the peoples in the region.

What is certain is that an Israeli war initiative against Iran will not be a war of survival for Israel, as we are told by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Rather, it will be a war in defense of Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East.

Most Israelis also beginning to see, that no option exists for a one-sided monopoly in the Middle East over nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. If such weapons exist in the Middle East, they will not be in the exclusive possession of one party. Thus, the existence of huge amounts of nuclear weapons in Israel, not only does not deter other states from developing these weapons, but actually motivates them to attempt to obtain them and other non-conventional weapons in response.

That’s why we believe, unlike the Israeli government, that the last Geneva agreement could be a historical turning point in handling the nuclear question in the Middle East.


Dear Comrades, Dear friends,

When the Israeli leadership is being pressured to join the initiative for making the Middle East a nuclear free zone, it responds with arguing that Israel will only agree to discuss this matter, once a comprehensive and stable peace will be achieved in the area. This misleading argument is grounded on the notion that the Israeli nuclear arsenal is actually a pre-condition for achieving peace in the region. It is an Israeli deception, another illusion we must thoroughly reject.

The Israeli government wishes to reverse the political agenda in the region, raising the fore the Iranian question, at the expense of the Palestinian question and its peaceful solution. The rights of the Palestinian people, the continuing occupation, and the expansion of the settlements – all of these questions are pushed to the back.

In fact, the Israeli government’s refusal to advance towards just peace and political solution, its constant threats of war and regional aggression, its denial of the national rights of the Palestinian people, its contempt towards UN resolutions and international law, its continued expansion of settlements and deepening of the occupation – all these are made easier Israel’s nuclear monopoly on the one hand, and the political backing that is provided by the US on the other hand. Therefore we say that the Israeli refusal on the nuclear question – consolidates its refusal on the political question.

The Israeli equation must be turned on its head: not the comprehensive peace in the region is the pre-condition for nuclear disarmament, but on the contrary – the nuclear disarmament and complete halt of all plans to develop nuclear weapons throughout the region, including Israel and Iran, must be a very essential part of achieving peace.

On February 2nd, it will be 14 years since the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – has officially held a plenum discussion regarding the Israeli Nuclear policy. This discussion, held on my initiative, was only made possible after I appealed to the Supreme Court and insisted on my right to raise this issue in the Knesset, and on the right of the Israeli public to be allowed to witness this very important discussion. Although the Presidium of the Knesset has given the discussion the green light, following the court ruling, it was not at all clear and certain that the discussion will actually take place.

Some rightwing Members of Knesset has welcomed this discussion with hysterical screams, acting as if I was slaughtering a sacred cow. That was an historic day for the anti-nuclear struggle, in Israel and abroad. If it was not for the Speaker of the Knesset, Abraham Burg, who was bravely committed to allow this message to be heard – it was not at all certain that the discussion could have been possible.

I have always appreciated the honesty and determination of Burg, but it did not cross my mind that 14 years later, we will be partners in organizing the first international conference in Israel for a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East.

This conference is the conference of the brave ones. Of those who tell the truth to the peoples of the region. Of those who wish to build a secure future for citizens of Israel, for the countries of the region, and for the world. Of those who aspire for a future without Weapons of Mass Destruction, a future of Peace.


* Speech by former MK Issam Makhoul (Hadash), chairperson of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian and Israeli Studies, during the conference for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, Haifa, December 5th 2013.



Issam Makhoul: If Israel won’t go to Helsinki, Helsinki will come to Israel

Conference for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons

A call for an International Conference for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East