The nightmare scenario of Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

Last update – 04:28 10/10/2006

Analysis: A nightmare scenario of living under a nuclear threat

By Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondent

The nightmare scenario of Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is becoming a reality. It is a vision of a fragile world living under a nuclear mushroom – nuclear arms spreading among countries until they fall into the hands of terrorist groups. Eight years after Pakistan and India surprised the world with their own nuclear test, it was North Korea’s turn. The implications of this development, on northeast Asia, the international community, and particularly on Israel and the Middle East, are great.

Concerns over the North Korean test, that was rumored to be pending for a week now, are not centered only on the threat to South Korea and Japan. The main concern revolves around the next country that will develop nuclear weapons. At this time, all eyes are turned toward Iran. How will Tehran interpret Monday’s events, and the responses that followed and will continue to follow in the coming days from the international community?

Iran may interpret the North Korean nuclear test thus: Pyongyang ignored world opinion; it ignored the UN Security Council, sanctions, and warnings issued by its neighbors, including the two major powers, China and Russia. Iran may conclude that a determined leadership, which ignores the world, even if it lacks the most advanced technologies and is economically limited, is able to withstand the pressure of a divided international community driven by national interests, and develop nuclear weapons.

But Iran is not North Korea. There are differences between the nuclear programs of the two countries. North Korea carried out its test as a result of frustration and a sense that it is not being taken seriously, especially by the United States. For North Korea, nuclear weapons are the means to ensure the Communist regime’s survival. It had declared its willingness to relinquish the fissile material it holds (now the bomb) if the U.S. would recognize it and sign a non-aggression pact with it.

For Iran, nuclear arms mean regional influence, a deterrent against external threats, and a tool in the hands of the regime for diplomatic and possibly territorial gains. But Iran’s determination is not driven by the same motives as those of the North Korean leadership, whose leader’s behavior makes no sense to most experts. Iran, on the other hand, aspires to acquire nuclear weapons, and only a severe response by the international community can stop it. Will the North Korean test serve as shock therapy for Russia and China to join the West against Iran?

Will the nuclear test step up an American military response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions? Some will say that the nuclear test will encourage the U.S. to now act with greater determination, with or without international consensus – in an effort to prevent the collapse of the Non-Proliferation Treaty via a domino effect. Others will point to the difficulties, which they will argue are greater than ever, facing a U.S. attack against Iran. How will the U.S. justify such an attack, which it did not undertake against North Korea?

In the Middle East, there is concern that a nuclear Iran will bring about a chain-reaction, with other countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey following suit to balance the threat through the acquisition of nuclear arms. On the other hand, there have been examples of countries that have relinquished nuclear arms by choice: South Africa, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Libya. It is not unlikely that if the U.S. will show greater flexibility and agree to hold a dialogue with the "axis of evil" states, North Korea may agree to disarm in return for meeting the demands it posed four years ago: fuel supply, energy-producing nuclear plants, U.S. recognition of its sovereignty, and a non-aggression pact.

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