The Egyptian Gazette Wednesday, 24 May, 2000

The latest conference on nuclear non-proliferation has provided a breakthrough for the Middle East. The final document of the month-long conference in New York departed from a long tradition by naming Israel for the first time as one of four countries yet to ratify the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Jewish state has been keeping the world guessing about the scope of its nuclear arsenal. It has been widely reported that Israel has over 200 nuclear warheads, a figure the Israelis have neither denied nor confirmed. The country snubbed a series of attempts to give international watchdogs access to its highly suspected installations.

The fact that Israel is indisputably a nuclear power dims the prospects of permanent peace in the Middle East. According to the Middle East section in the final document of the New York forum, the participating delegates agreed to dispatch an envoy to Israel, whose job will be to look into the question of that country's nuclear capability. Strikingly, the US did not object to a call on Israel in the same section to sign the NPT treaty and place all its nuclear facilities under the full jurisdiction of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The ball is now in Israel's court. But in view of its long history of contempt for world norms, there is little expectation that it will react positively to the New York conference proposals. The world - particularly the Arab nation - should therefore prepare itself for such an eventuality.