International Papers

Muammar’s Big Move

Can Israel’s nuclear program survive the current trend?

U.N. nuclear weapons experts could move in to Libya as early as next week to begin inspecting the North African state’s nuclear facilities. It’s all part of Libya’s sweeping concessions on weapons of mass destruction that followed extensive secret talks with London and Washington. Arab newspapers seized news of the diplomatic breakthrough to pounce on Israel, which Riyadh Daily called “a nuclear rogue state.”

Libya announced Friday that it would rid itself of all nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, capping years of efforts by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to nuzzle up to the West and erase the country’s pariah status. Papers later reported that on Sunday Libya said it would allow snap nuclear site inspections.

An editorial in the Jordan Times said Israel, too, must accept oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency. “As long as some countries in the area continue to possess such capabilities, it is only a matter of time before another state in the region will acquire its own,” the paper said. An editorial in the Riyadh Daily said that while Libya “has hardly been a threat to its neighbors,” Israel “poses a grave and immediate threat to the entire region.” The Arab world is “disillusioned,” the paper said, “at the Western pressure on Libya to give up its WMD programs while Israel is not even on the radar.”

Britain’s Guardianalso spotlighted the elephant in the room in an op-ed headlined, “If Libya can do it, why not Israel?” The commentary said that if WMD pose a global threat and must be curtailed, “then logic begins to move us closer to the confrontation we never seek with the nuclear power we—let alone Messrs Bush and Blair—seldom mention: Israel.” The column concluded:

An Israel bristling with nuclear hardware it cannot talk about and chemical horrors it could negotiate away does not make itself, or the world, any safer. On the contrary, it makes a hypocritical farce of too much Washington bargaining, buries too many initiatives deep down Hypocrisy Gulch and gives rogue groupings in ex-rogue states every reason to carry on developing, stealing or buying the devices that keep Mr Blair awake at night.

Ha’aretz, reporting that Israel was left out of talks leading to the Libya deal, said that given recent developments in Libya and Iran, Israel now expects to face greater pressure to allow monitoring of its nuclear programs. “While the U.S. has assured Israel that it has no need to worry, Israel is closely watching discussions in the American administration on a possible re-evaluation of the proposed international treaty to freeze the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons”—a treaty the paper noted is aimed mainly at Israel, India, and Pakistan. Ha’aretz said Israel backs a nuclear-free Middle East, “but only as part of a gradual and long-term process, after peace has been achieved between Israel and all the nations in the region and a mutual monitoring system has been instituted.”

While some Arab papers viewed Qaddafi’s move as a realization that Libya must change its ways, others saw it as a sellout and questioned U.S. motives. The London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi said, “We disagree completely with this idea of abandoning WMDs.” The paper said the move “completely contradicts all the principles of the Libyan revolution and Arab and Islamic values.” The Palestinian Al-Hayyat Al-Jadidah said, “The United States has always a store of excuses, the main one being democracy. … Most probably, Libya has opened the door to U.S. extortion. It has not learnt the most important lesson: Washington has an appetite that can never be satisfied.” (Arabic translations courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)

Britain’s Observer reported that as part of its deal with London and Washington, Libya provided detailed intelligence on hundreds of al-Qaida members and other extremists, calling this intelligence the “real prize” for the years of talks.

Papers considered the implications of Libya’s move for other pariah states. Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported that Tony Blair—his position bolstered by the Libya deal—will now step up diplomatic efforts to glean concessions from Iran and Syria. In Pakistan—Washington’s problematic bedfellow in the war on terrorism—the independent Daily Times said, “Islamabad has already taken note and is hurrying to make amends for some past carelessness.” And Pakistani authorities are looking into whether scientists there unofficially sold nuclear technology to North Korea, Iran, and other nations. The paper said it is one thing for Pakistan to develop its own nuclear capacity in the face of an armed neighbor, “quite another to seemingly go about helping others to develop the capability.”

Prominent in the WMD debate is the question of whether the Iraq war and the capture of Saddam Hussein tipped Qaddafi toward a deal with the West. The Scotsman said while the negotiations that led to the deal had been under way for some time, “the toppling of Saddam will not have been unhelpful in concentrating minds, both on the decision to abandon weapons of mass destruction and on the agreement to sign up to UN nuclear arms inspections.” The Jerusalem Post argued in an editorial, “To those who claim that Operation Iraqi Freedom failed to uncover WMDs, the case of Libya now serves as a devastating rebuke.” However, the Financial Times said that while Washington has touted Libya’s move as an outcome of the Iraq war, “the Libyan shift was part of a long and systematic process that Col Gadaffi, with help from his son and apparent heir Seif al-Islam, has consistently pursued since the early 1990s.”

The FT added that although the United States defends its actions in the Middle East with talk about democratization, Qaddafi will likely be allowed to get away with mere “cosmetic political and economic reforms.” The paper said, “Washington continues to befriend authoritarian rulers who regularly flout human rights. For now Col Gadaffi has graduated from the ranks of a pariah to become just another Middle East autocrat.”