The Middle East

Sunni, Shi'ite and nuclear wepons

The Middle East

The coming Sunni-Shi'ite nuclear arms race

The coming Sunni-Shi'ite nuclear arms race

By Gal Luft.

Dr Gal Luft is executive director of the Washington based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger.

Source: Institute for the Analysis of Global Security

Reproduced at Zionism On The Web with with premission

The Race for Nuclear Wepons

As tension between Sunnis and Shi'ites mounts from Iraq to Lebanon another front is opening in the deepening strife between the two parts of the Muslim world: The race to acquire nuclear capabilities. Iran's uranium enrichment program en route to a Shi'ite bomb has already whetted the appetite of its Sunni neighbors to follow suit. The December meeting of the of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a new milestone on the road to a Sunni Arab nuclear capability. In the meeting, GCC leaders decided on a joint program in the field of nuclear technology for "peaceful purposes". "Possessing nuclear technology […] has economic and scientific significance," the spokesman for the Council of Ministers explained. Two weeks later another Gulf country, Yemen, announced its aspirations to acquire nuclear technology. On the African side of the Middle East, Egypt and Algeria, two Sunni nations blessed with energy resources, have also declared their intension to pursue nuclear power. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak drew roaring applause when he announced in a November speech before a combined session of the People's Assembly and Shura Council that Egypt was not "in need of anyone's authorization to develop peaceful nuclear energy".

Invoking the "economic significance" nuclear power could have for Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman - six countries that together control 40 percent of the world's oil and close to 10 percent of its natural gas reserves - at a time when both commodities are sold for historically high prices is as strange as a similar rationale coming from Iran, OPEC's second largest producer and the world's second largest reserve of natural gas, for its "peaceful" nuclear program. The truth is that the rationale for Sunni Arab countries to pursue nuclear capabilities is purely strategic and has to do with the Sunni-Shi'ite battle for hegemony over the Muslim world. This split, which currently happens in Iraq, is quickly evolving into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim nations and Shi'ite Iran. A Sunni-Shi'ite nuclear arms race is only a natural progression of that cold war.

No doubt both Shi'ites and Sunnis have the hard currency reserves to fund a civil nuclear program and most likely to take it to the next step of producing a nuclear arsenal. In fact, it was Saudi Arabia that invested close to a billion dollars in helping the Pakistani nuclear program in the 1970s and 1980s. If they could afford to arm others there is no reason why they couldn't provide for their own needs.

What hinders the Sunnis' progress more than anything is their tight relations with the West. Contrary to the Iranians who decided to pursue nukes in spite of Western opposition and at the cost of international isolation, the Sunnis -- some are beneficiaries of significant U.S. economic and military assistance --are heavily constrained by their strategic commitments to the U.S. Looking to build a moral case for their nuclear pursuit, the Sunnis were recently handed two separate comments, one by Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the other by newly appointed Defense Secretary Robert Gates: both listed Israel as a nuclear power. Nothing could have given the Sunnis better ammunition in their effort to justify their nuclear ambitions as getting Israel out of the closet. Which explains why in the same session in which the GCC nuclear plan was announced the Council urged the U.S. and the international community to press for sanctions on Israel for its nuclear program.

The message coming from the Middle East is clear. With both nuclear Israel and nuclear Iran the West can no longer stop Sunni Arabs from pursuing an insurance policy against their staunchest enemies. This message is not only another reminder of the destabilizing impact of a nuclear Iran but also that a dispute between the Americans and Europeans and their Sunni allies over the nuclear issue is in the cards.

The U.S., which by virtue of the Iraq War took the Shiite genie out of its bottle where it was locked for over a millennium, will likely offer security guarantees on par with the deterrent power of nuclear weapons in exchange for a Sunni commitment to forego its right to go nuclear. But such offers are most likely to be declined. Clearly, increased U.S. military presence in the Gulf is the last thing Sunni regimes want. As it is, they are under heavy criticism by domestic radicals for permitting the existing U.S. presence in the region. Nor will they trust the U.S. to provide a credible guarantee against Iranian hostility. Besides, nuclear power is a salient source of national prestige which cannot be replaced with anything the U.S. can offer.

What is at stake today is not just a nuclear Iran but a full blown nuclearization of the world's most dangerous region. With this in mind the U.S.' and Europe's strategy should go beyond just preventing Iran from acquiring nukes. As this battle may already be lost, the focus now should be on the next wave of nuclear hopefuls. This will require the development of a fresh set of carrots and sticks as well as a candid dialogue which includes not only Sunni Arabs who desire nukes but also Russia, China and Pakistan, the countries most likely to provide them with the technology they need to meet their ambitions.

As the world transitioned from the Cold War to the war on radical Islam former CIA director James Woolsey said: "We have slain a large dragon. But we live now in a jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous snakes." If subsequent to a failure to prevent a Shi'ite bomb comes another failure to prevent a Sunni bomb this unsavory jungle will be populated in no time with some of the worst of dragons.

Middle East Articles

Israel, Facebook and National Security By Dr Andre Oboler, Jerusalem Post, April 24th 2008

What To Do About Gaza: The Realistic Scenario By Prof Barry Rubin, GLORIA Center, March 17, 2008

Israel, Gaza and International Law By Dr Abraham Bell, Jerusalem Issue Briefs, 28 February 2008

The Latest Damage to Antiquities on the Temple Mount By Nadav Shragai, Jerusalem Issue Briefs, 27 February 2008

International Law and Gaza: The Assault on Israel's Right to Self-Defense By Dr Abraham Bell, Jerusalem Issue Briefs, 28 January 2008

NGOs another moral compass By Andre Oboler, 7 February 2008

The Daniel Pearl Standard By Judea Pearl, 30 January 2008

Commemorating the UN votes on November 29 By Benjamin Netanyahu, 29 November 2007

Jerusalem IS a Jewish Issue By Ted Belman, Israpundit, November 2007

The Attitudinal Prism of Condoleezza Rice By Joel Fishman, in Makor Rishon, October 2007

Review of "Hot House"By David Brumer, in Congress Monthly, Jan /Feb 2007

Where Europe Fails By Prof Gerald Steinberg, Jerusalem Post, 9 May 2007

Palestinian Refugees: Factoids and the Palestinians right of return By Maurice Ostroff

Don't Put the Impossible First By Prof Barry Rubin, Gloria Center, March 22, 2007

The coming Sunni-Shi'ite nuclear arms race By Gal Luft, Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, Jan 8, 2007

Ahmadinejad's World By Dr Matthias Küntzel, July 20th, 2006

Radical Islam with sovereignty By Jonathan Spyer, Haaretz, January 27, 2006

Tipping point By Nir Boms and Reza Bulorchi, The Wall Street Journal (Europe), July 27, 2005

The Logic of Israel's Targeted Killing By Gal Luft, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003

Else where on the site

Zionism is not a 'settler-colonial undertaking' David Hoffman , Mail & Guardian (South Africa), 28 June 2005

Comparison of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict with Apartheid South Africa Shimon Zachary Klein

Muslim antisemitism and anti-Zionism explained Denis MacEoin provides a history of Muslim attitudes to Jews and the background to Islamic antisemitism and anti-Zionism, a ZOTW feature

Anti-Zionism is Racism Judea Pearl, The New York Jewish Week, 2005

A family at the beach in Israel, note the helicopters in the sky... they're need to pretect ordinary people's safty as they do ordinary things like take a day out at the Tel-Aviv beach

A day at the beach

Note the Helicopters in the background at this family's day out at the beach. Welcome to Israel where nothing can be taken forgranted, not even on a sunny day at the sand and sea

Zionism On The Web Directory

Learn more about this site at our Zionism Main page. Comment and add your thoughts to our Zionism and Israel discussion forums. See our Resource Centers on the British Academic Boycott of Israel, and the Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism Resource Center, and the special section on the Palestinian state. Learn more from our articles on Zionism in the commentary collection. Extend your learning through out links about Zionism or at our Zionism links directory.

External links on Israel and Zionism

If you found this site helpful, please tell others about Zionism and Israel on the Web and link to us at

We'll be happy to add a link to our directory for any site on Israel, Zionism, the Middle East, or Judaism that links to us. You can add your site and if you have a link to us we'll aprove it. You can aslo e-mail us at for an additional link on our links page.

We also work closely with webmaster at the following sites:
Information about Israel and Zionism at

The Zionism Pages at

Zionism, Israel and me at

Recommended sources on Zionism

On the subject of Zionism we recommend the following sites:

Wikipedia article about Zionism - A comprehensive article including the history of Zionism as well as links to specific topics and articles about anti-Zionism.
Zionism - Table of contents at the Jewish Virtual Library
Zionism article at Infoplease
Zionism - Definition and Brief History - A balanced article that covers the definitions and history of Zionism as well as opposition to Zionism and criticisms by Arabs,  Jewish anti-Zionists.
Zionation - Progressive Zionism and Israel Web Log A community blog updated regularly
Labor Zionism - Early History and Critique - Contribution of Labor Zionism to the creation of the Jewish state, and problems of Labor Zionism in a changing reality.
Essential Texts of Zionism
Jewish Agency Zionism pages - Links to basic information about Zionism from the Jewish Agency
Ambassador Herzog explains Zionism in the UN

US Library of congress on Zionism
The US Library of congress has a comprehensive and balanced set of articles about Zionism:
Zionist Precursors - US Library of Congress
Political Zionism - US Library of Congress
Cultural Zionism - US Library of Congress
Labor Zionism - US Library of Congress
Revisionist Zionism - US Library of Congress

Zionism advocacy sites
Active Zionism - A Zionist advocacy site with many useful links
Realistic Religious Zionism - moderate religious Zionist Web site
Zionism- 100 Years - Selected Materials - Israel Ministry of Information

Recommended sources on Israel

Israel is a small, high tech, democratic country in the Middle East. It's capital Jerusalem is central to Judaism and highly important to Christianity and Islam. We recommend the following sites:

Wikipedia article about Israel - A comprehensive article including the history of Israel
Israel - Table of contents at the Jewish Virtual Library

US Library of congress & CIA World Fact Book on Israel
Main article on Israel - US Library of Congress
The Israeli Parliment (the Knesset) - US Library of Congress
Government and Politics of Israel - US Library of Congress
World Facts: Israel

Israel today - beyond the conflict

Virtual Jerusalem
Israel21C - A focus beyond the conflict
Beyond Images

(c) Zionism On The Web, 2005-2006.
You may reproduce most of our content on your own site provided you include a link back to us. This includes articles where we've received explicit permission from the author both to republish at Zionism On The Web and to pass this permission on to others. If you have articles on Zionism or Israel that you'd like us to share with others, please e-mail the content address below. If you have copyright questions please e-mail the webmaster. Thank you to all who have contributed their time and resources to - Andre Oboler (Chief Executive) and the team at Zionism On The Web.

Mail the webmaster at: Please mail ZIONISTGUYS at the domain ZIONISMONTHEWEB.ORG
Mail potential content to: Please mail CONTENT at the domain ZIONISMONTHEWEB.ORG