Many leaders of the 46 countries attending President Obama’s two-day nuclear security summit this week are urging that the summit serve as a benchmark for a renewal of international focus to prevent nuclear terrorism.
Ironically, the summit is taking place a few days after the Iranian regime, which constantly thumbs its nose at the international community, celebrated its so-called “National Day of Nuclear Technology.” Beyond the obvious, what should be the focus of the summit?
Without any doubt, it should be the looming Iranian nuclear threat. This is a regime that is rushing to build and deploy nuclear weapons at the same time it is issuing public statements that it would use such terrible weapons to wipe an entire country from existence. This alone should be a red flag.
Also, the Iranian regime, while seeking nukes, is interfering in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has an alliance with the Syrian regime, which, like Iran, supports Hezbollah with weaponry, funding, and operational support, all of which could trigger a regional war at any moment.
Moreover, the Iranian regime is backing an armed insurrection in northern Yemen. It has a presence in the Red Sea. And it has signed a treaty with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuelan regime in our own hemisphere.
If we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, we may end up seeing the deployment of those weapons on three continents. Obama has a unique opportunity to gather a vast international consensus on isolating Tehran and opposing its nuclear ambitions.
On the other hand, terrorist organizations can put their hands on nuclear material or weapons and eventually use them. The first stage in this threat is proliferation: Where can terrorist groups acquire these weapons? This is the crux of the problem. Who would give, sell, or allow them to obtain such weapons in any way?
Then, if they do indeed acquire them, how will they use or threaten to use them? How to stop them?
This is our second problem. Tight international cooperation is one of the best ways to combat nuclear terrorism. Some terrorist groups have a very focused interest in acquiring and eventually using them. Osama bin Laden stated that he wishes to put his hands on such weapons and he also has alluded that he believes the Pakistani nukes belong to the jihadists.
But if Iran’s regime obtains these weapons, it goes without saying that Hezbollah could receive them. Hezbollah already has the missiles capable of delivering these weapons.
We should be concerned about the situation in Pakistan. The government there is anti-Taliban and has assured the United States and the international community that these weapons are secure. However, there are concerns that those sympathetic to the Taliban might facilitate a transfer of one or more of those weapons to the jihadists, or the jihadists might seize them outright.
Nuclear material from former Soviet republics is also a matter of concern. Obviously, North Korea is another potential source of proliferation.
Ironically, reports mentioned that Turkey and Egypt were planning on raising the issue of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Why would two American allies focus on Israel and not on Iran?
Traditionally, Turkey’s secular administrations have been careful not to enter the fray of nuclear debate in the region. However, it seems that the AKP Islamic Party is adopting an increasingly pro-Islamist position, and thus is using the issue in regional and international forums to enhance its stance with Islamist forces in the Arab world.
The AKP government has declared its solidarity with Iran’s nuclear program while claiming that the latter is not a military program, and it has supported the Omar al-Bashir regime in Sudan as well as Hamas in Gaza. Turkey’s government also has been vocally critical of its former military partner, Israel.
I expect the AKP is preparing to declare its own intention of acquiring such technology in the not-so-distant future. As for Egypt, its government is under severe propaganda and political pressure from the Muslim brotherhood at home and in the region and thus takes advantage of international forums to show ideological toughness.
Dr. Walid Phares is director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of “The Confrontation: Winning the War Against Future Jihad.” He served on an NSC Task Force on Nuclear Terrorism in 2006-2007.
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