"Middle East Arms Control and Regional Security"

Published in Survival, Spring 1994, Vol. 36, No. 1

In September 1993, the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations reached a major milestone when the first agreements between Israel and the PLO were signed. As a result, Israeli forces have redeployed in the Gaza Strip and the Jericho region, and by July 1 994, this process is to extend to the rest of the West Bank. In addition, Israel and Jordan signed a framework agreement for negotiation of a peace treaty, and negotiations with Syria over the Golan Heights are continuing.

As this process advances, there will be major changes in military deployments in the region. Alternative security arrangements, including limited force and demilitarized zones, will accompany Israeli military withdrawal and redeployments. In the l onger term, stability in the Middle East will also require the development of a security regime including Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and, with respect to long-range non-conventional weapons, extending as far as Algeria and Iran.

If this attempt to transform the Middle East is to succeed, arms control and confidence-building measures will play an increasingly important roles. Indeed, the architects of the Madrid process recognized the centrality of these issues from the begin ning, and created the multilateral working group on arms control and regional security (ACRS). In addition, potential limitations and CSBMs are also discussed in the bilateral negotiations involving Israel and the individual Arab states (specifically Syr ia, Jordan, and Egypt), and in a number of international forums.

To date, these discussions can be described as very broad and largely theoretical. While external actors, and the United States in particular, have preached the virtues of arms limitation, the parties have generally viewed this exercise as idealistic and remote.

However, the signing of the recent agreements transformed arms control in the Middle East into a realistic and even pressing enterprise. In January 1993, after intensive debate, the Israeli government fashioned a policy emphasizing confidence and sec urity-building measures, as well as limits on chemical and biological weapons, missiles, and conventional weapons. Caps on the Israeli strategic deterrent, including the nuclear capability, are envisioned in the policy, but are still seen as the last and distant stage in the process.1

The Arab position is largely the reverse, giving priority to the Israeli nuclear weapons capability, while viewing substantial CSBMs, including pre-notification and crisis prevention measures, as following from, rather than leading to peace agreements and territorial withdrawal by Israel. The Arab states, led by Egypt, press Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty immediately, and to accept IAEA safeguards at the Dimona nuclear complex. These measures are viewed as a prelude to or part o f an overall peace agreement.

Efforts to resolve these basic conflicts will intensify as the peace process continues. In this article, the policies of the major actors will be analyzed, and the basis for confidence building and arms control measures will be explored in detail. R ather than presenting an idealistic prescription of desirable measures, based on extending the existing global regimes, this analysis focuses on the military strategies and national security policies of the regional actors. On this basis, a number of int ermediate steps are proposed that are consistent with the security requirements of each state, as well with their shared interests.


The Israeli government and the military approach the issue of arms control with major misgivings and skepticism. Previous efforts, including the supplier agreements on conventional arms sales of the 1950s, and the NPT/IAEA regime for nuclear prolifer ation, are viewed as failures from the Israeli perspective.2 At best, arms control is seen as an idealistic irrelevance to the Middle East, while many leaders fear that this process will weaken Israel, both militarily and politically. The continued inst ability in the region, and Israel's perceived vulnerability, have reinforced concerns that arms limitations efforts will lead to a significant reduction in the IDF's deterrent capability, thereby increasing the military threat and the probability of a maj or war in the region.

The potential impact of arms control on the Israeli strategic deterrent is of particular concern. Maintenance of this capability is supported by a wide consensus of decision makers and the public. Shalheveth Freier, former head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, describes the (unacknowledged) nuclear deterrent as providing "a sense of reassurance to Israelis in times of gloom" and "to serve as possible caution to states contemplating obliterating Israel by dint of their preponderance of men an d material."3 In 1991, just after the Gulf War and Saddam Hussein's threats to "incinerate half of Israel" with chemical weapons, polls showed that 88% of Israelis agreed that the use of nuclear weapons to prevent annihilation was "justified in principle ".4

Nevertheless, in recent years, policy makers have begun to examine and compare the potential impacts of specific proposals on political and military requirements. In response to the Madrid process and the beginning of direct negotiations with the Ara b states and the PLO, the Israeli government has created new institutions for arms control, and developed a policy based on three guidelines. First, CSBMs and arms control are seen as directly linked to the peace process. Progress is closely coupled to the negotiations, and major limitations on Israel's nuclear capability will come at the end, after all the states in the region explicitly accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state, and formal peace agreements are signed, and not through other forums unli nked to these changes. Second, limitations must provide a tangible reduction in the military threat, conventional and unconventional, to Israel. Continued instability and crises in the region are incompatible with arms control. Third, limitation agreem ents must include realistic provisions for verification and solutions to the problem of "breakout" (the sudden unilateral abrogation of limitations, leading to a weapons capability within a very short period). Israeli policy makers reject mechanisms that leave these requirements in the hands of global institutions. Each factor is seen as a necessary requirement for arms control in the region.

Arms Control, CSBMs, and the Peace Process

Israeli national security doctrine places major emphasis on the role of deterrence and preemption. This doctrine originated in the early 1950s, in response to the continued threat of conflict following the 1948-9 War of Independence. Israeli leaders feared that the combination of Arab rejection of the legitimacy of the Jewish state, narrow borders, and the absence of strategic depth, would lead to repeated military challenges.5 The roles of deterrence and preemption were reinforced in 1967 by Egyp tian, Syrian, and Jordanian mobilizations, and the very costly surprise attack in 1973.6

As noted, Israeli leaders view the strategic deterrent, based on a nuclear capability, as necessary to counter the "existential" threat posed by individual states or potential combinations of Arab forces.7 Significant arms control agreements effectin g this deterrent can only come in the context of formal peace agreements and major changes in force structures, encompassing not only Syria and Jordan, but also the radical states such as Iraq, Iran, and Libya.

Given the long history of intense conflict and threats posed to national survival, Israeli policy views extensive CSBMs as a necessary first stage. Such measures, by definition, do not involve significant risks to national security or deterrence. In his January 1993 speech outlining Israeli policy, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres gave priority to measures designed "to build and nurture mutual confidence between states" and "to diminish the levels of suspicion, hostility and conflagration", and discuss ed applications in the area of preventing surprise attacks and in crisis management.8 Specific examples include pre-notification agreements regarding large-scale military maneuvers, hot-lines and regular communications between military commanders, and a center to coordinate naval activities and respond to incidents in the Red Sea.

For Israel, a high degree of cooperation, and direct, frequent and visible contact with Arab military forces is critical to the peace process, in general, and for arms limitations, in particular. Ariel Levite, a member of the Israeli delegation in th e multilateral working group on arms control, has referred to CSBMs as "a symbol of cooperation, sending a broad political message of willingness to move beyond confrontation and competition to cooperation and reconciliation."9

After the CSBM stage, Israeli policy envisions arms limitations, including both conventional and non-conventional weapons, consistent with and in the framework of the regional peace process. Demilitarized and limited force zones involving Syria and Israel are likely to be central to disengagement on the Golan Heights and Lebanon. In addition, given the short distances involved, Israel may seek agreed limits on acquisition of additional tanks and artillery, and perhaps combat aircraft. Similar cont rols on the acquisition or deployment of major platforms could also be discussed with respect to Saudi Arabia (which is seen by Israeli planners as a "warehouse" for advanced weapons), Egypt, Jordan, and even Iraq. Given Israeli threat perceptions, limit s on conventional weapons are essential elements in any broad arms control framework for the region.

As noted above, limits on the Israeli nuclear capability are seen as part of the final stage in the peace process, and policy makers have rejected pressures to sign the NPT and acceptance for inspection of Dimona that are independent of regional nego tiations. They argue that if Israel gives up this option, the Arab states would turn to war again. (Indeed, some Israeli analysts and leaders argue that the nuclear potential was a major factor in convincing Sadat and other Arab leaders that they could not hope to eliminate Israeli militarily, and that negotiations were the only realistic option.10)

Linkage between conventional and nuclear arms limitations

Israel's nuclear option and its ballistic missiles were developed in response to the perceived threat to the survival of the state. Threat scenarios include large-scale conventional attacks involving a number of Arab states, and, more recently, mis sile-borne attacks with conventional or non-conventional warheads against Israeli cities. The peace treaty with Egypt, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and the 1991 Gulf war have reduced this threat, at least in the short term. However, the possi bility of an attack on the Eastern front, involving Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, remains. Syria has increased its conventional capability significantly in the effort to reach parity with Israel, and is continuing to acquire large numbers of adva nced weapons.11 Iraq has contributed forces in every major Arab-Israeli war, and maintains a large army with 2500 main battle tanks and 2000 guns and mortars.

Israeli worst-case planners must also consider the possibility that Egypt, perhaps under an Islamic regime, could also reenter the conflict, and again threaten Israel with an attack from two fronts.12 In addition, as American and European technology diffuses quickly throughout the Arab world, Israel's qualitative advantage has eroded.13 Thus, from the Israeli perspective, the limitation of Arab conventional forces is a necessary condition for the acceptance of restraints on nuclear weapons and long- range surface-to-surface missiles.

Agreements with Syria and the Palestinians involving territorial withdrawal from the Golan Heights and the West Bank will increase emphasis on deterrence.14 The geographic and demographic asymmetries that have characterized the Arab-Israeli conflict will become even more pronounced. Israel will always be a micro-state without strategic depth and a very small population. Major changes in the defense lines and the possibility of chemical and missile attacks will impede reserve mobilization, and make Israel again appear be highly vulnerable to large-scale surprise attack. As long as Arab capabilities are sufficient to endanger Israeli national survival, a strategic deterrent force will be seen as necessary. Efforts to force Israel to give up its nuc lear option unilaterally, without major reductions in the Arab conventional forces, are interpreted by Israeli leaders as evidence that "the Arab states wish to retain the option of waging wars against Israel, with nothing to worry about."15

The Requirement for Regional Verification

Verification is essential to any realistic arms control regime, and the Middle East has a particularly poor track record in this area. With a few exceptions (such as Israel), most Middle Eastern societies are hermetically sealed to outsiders, facilit ating secret programs, and making verification particularly difficult, as was seen in the case of Iraq. Although Iraq is a party to the NPT and subject to IAEA safeguards, this organization failed to detect Saddam Hussein's illicit nuclear weapons progra m, and even after the 1991 war, the IAEA had great difficulty destroying the Iraqi program. From the Israeli perspective, the existing nuclear regime is unable to insure "timely warning" of a nuclear program, and this system presents the illusion, but no t the substance of verification.

The problems of the existing NPT/IAEA regime in responding to a sudden decision of a signatory to withdraw from its commitments (either with the 3-month notification, as allowed by the NPT, or without it) are now widely acknowledged.16 The North Kore an case provides another example of the difficulties and delays encountered when a state resists IAEA challenge inspections, and seeks to withdraw from the Treaty. This scenario, and the slow response of the international community, does not provide reas surance for Israel.

In addition, politically, Israel has no trust the IAEA, the United Nations, and other international organizations. For many years, the Arab states have introduced resolutions seeking to expel Israel from the IAEA.17 Israel has been excluded from re gional groupings within the IAEA, and has never been given a role in its governing bodies.

Since 1981, Israel has supported UN resolutions calling for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, but not based on the existing NPT/IAEA structure. The preffered model is provided by the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco, which established the basis for a nuclear-free zone in Latin America. Such a framework would be negotiated directly between all the states in a regional forum, and verification would be conducted through mutual inspection. The Israeli decision to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention wa s based, in part, on the view that this regime could establish a regional framework for inspection and verification of the MENWFZ.18 While the concept of a regional NWFZ remains relatively vague, Israeli policy makers continue to reject the existing NPT regime as a "non-starter".


Over 20 Arab states, as well as Iran, are active participants in Middle East military conflicts, and it is somewhat difficult and potentially misleading to attempt to define a unified position. A number of conflict zones overlap, and most states have multiple and shifting security concerns. Iraq, for example, is a central actor both in the Persian Gulf and the Arab-Israeli conflict zones. This complexity also makes regional arms control more difficult relative to other parts of the world.

Discussion of arms control issues is hampered by Syria's refusal to participate in the multilateral negotiations until "substantial progress" is made in bilateral talks, and by the absence of Libyan, Iranian, or Iraqi involvement in the overall peace process. In most areas, the implementation of significant agreements depends on the full and active involvement of all these states.

Nevertheless, in a broad sense, in the context of the multilateral ACRS negotiations and in related frameworks, an Arab position on arms control has evolved and can be examined and compared to the Israeli policy. In most areas, Egypt takes the lead i n arms control in the Arab-Israeli context and speaks for the other Arab states. The major focus of all initiatives and proposals is on the Israeli nuclear capability, although CSBMs and other measures have received increasing attention since the process began.

The Emphasis on Nuclear Arms Control

For twenty years, Egypt has led the Arab effort to pressure Israel into signing the NPT. In 1974, the Egyptian government began introducing annual resolutions in the United Nations calling for the establishment of a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Z one, based on the NPT and IAEA regime. In 1981, Egypt signed the NPT, and since then, has sought to pressure Israel into following this lead. At the annual meetings of the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Egyptian repres entative introduces the joint Arab resolution that "affirms the urgent need for all States in the Middle East to forthwith accept the application of full-scope Agency safeguards to all their nuclear activities" and calls for active steps to encourage thes e measures.19 This theme has also been repeated in all of the meetings of the ACRS working group.

In April 1990, following Saddam Hussein's announcement of the development of binary chemical weapons, President Mubarak called for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. A detailed proposal was introduced before the United Nations in July 1991, and forms the core of the declared Arab position on arms control. In addition to calling on all states in the Middle East to sign the NPT and accept IAEA safeguards on all nuclear facilities, Egypt also urged other states "to step up their efforts to ensure that all Middle East nations which have not yet done so adhere to the Treaty".20

Egyptian leaders argue that Israel's nuclear monopoly provides her with military superiority that the Arabs in general, and Egypt, in particular, cannot accept. In addition, from the Egyptian perspective, the Israeli nuclear program makes it more dif ficult to block the nuclear programs of other states in the region, including Iran and Algeria, and will eventually lead to a nuclear Middle East.21 American analysts have expressed the concern that Egypt and other Arab states will link extension of the NPT in the 1995 Review Conference to Israeli acceptance of curbs on its program.22

Mahmoud Karem, a senior member of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, has published a book entitled A Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East: Problems and Prospects, that presents the Egyptian perspective.23 This approach is based on the existing IAEA verification system, and includes an active role for the United Nations, in sharp contrast with the Israeli demand for an independent and dedicated regional institution.24 (Egypt maintains plans for a civil nuclear program, and officials stress tha t acceptance of the NPT and IAEA safeguards should not be "misconstrued" so as to limit the "inalienable right to civilian technology."25)

With the beginning of the negotiation process and the meeting of the ACRS working group, the link between arms control and the implementation of peace agreements has become increasingly important. The Arab position is reflected in this forum, and rep resentatives continue to demand that Israel give up its nuclear capability, or at least take major steps in that direction, before the completion of or in the context of a peace treaty. How, they ask, can the Arabs be persuaded to make peace as long as I srael has a nuclear monopoly and can use this monopoly to threaten the them?26 Egyptian representatives in the United Nations and other international forums have stated that Israeli acceptance of the NPT and IAEA safeguards would constitute confidence bu ilding measures necessary for progress in the peace process.27 Israeli concessions on the nuclear issue are described as inducements to bring the other Arab states into the peace process, and reduce the isolation of Egypt.

Egyptian policy directly links the Israeli position on nuclear weapons and the NPT to Cairo's acceptance of limits on chemical weapons and participation in the Chemical Weapons Convention.28 In addressing the 1988 Paris Conference on the CWC, Foreign Minister Abdel-Meguid declared that "Any progress on banning chemical weapons is tied to the conclusion of a parallel ban on nuclear arms" in the region.29 In January 1993, when the CWC was opened for signature, the official Syrian press described the t reaty as an attempt to "disarm the Arabs and deprive them of any deterrent means for self-defense."30 Initially, most other Arab states supported the Egyptian and Syrian position, but under American pressure, a number of North African and Persian Gulf st ates have signed the CWC. However, the Arab position continues to emphasize Israeli acceptance of controls on nuclear weapons as a necessary prerequisite for broader regional arms control measures, including implementation of the CWC.

The Role of the IAEA and International Organizations

In contrast to Israel, the Egyptian proposals are firmly anchored to the IAEA and NPT regime, as well as to the United Nations. Policy statements highlight the need to ensure that "any regional arrangement or measure of disarmament" is consistent wit h "the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations" and with "the revitalization of the United Nation's role in the fields of disarmament and international security".31 Nabil Fahmy, who plays an important role in the formulatio n of arms control policy in the Foreign Ministry, has called for active measures from the Security Council and General Assembly designed to convince states to "relinquish and not acquire" nuclear weapons.32 The Egyptian initiatives rely exclusively on th e IAEA safeguards system, and have not responded to the limitations of this regime.

The emphasis on the role of the IAEA, the United Nations, and other international organizations can also be seen as part of the broader Egyptian approach to foreign policy. Since the 1950s, Egypt has often defined its international role in the contex t of the United Nations, and was a leader and co-founder of the Non-aligned Movement.33 Egyptian representatives played an active part in the initial discussions on the text of the NPT, as well as in the periodic review conferences.34 This factor, and the Egyptian interest in maintaining a visible role for the United Nations, adds another complication to the politics of arms control in the region.

A Limited Role for CSBMs

Within the ACRS multilateral workshops and parallel discussions, Egyptian representatives have accepted the requirement for some CSBMs, but, as noted above, these are defined to include and indeed stress the Israeli nuclear program.35 Fahmy referred to the Egyptian acceptance of the NPT as a CSBM, and has called on Israel to follow this lead. (Israel rejects this position, on the grounds that strategic systems are beyond the scope of CSBMs, and the NPT and IAEA regime involves complex safeguards tha t are also, by definition, not included in the CSBM stage.) Although a number of CSBMs operate in the context of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, including demilitarized as well as reduced forces zones, third-party verification, early warning and surve illance, and direct communications between military officers, the Egyptians have not, as yet, actively supported multilateral CSBMs, such as the creation of regional crisis centers.

Jordanian policy generally echoes the Egyptian position, and the Jordanian representatives to the bilateral negotiations demanded that this issue be included in the agenda agreement that was signed with Israel on September 14, 1993. The text includ es a pledge to place priority on the creation of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction. (However, the text also reflects the Israeli position by linking conventional arms limitations to this goal, and subordinating this issue to the mult ilateral working group, and the establishment of a broad and stable peace agreement in the region.)

Jordan has also shown interest in CSBMs in the context of security arrangements along the Jordan river and with respect to crisis prevention. The reprochment between Israel and the PLO has removed some of the inhibitions on Jordan in dealing directl y and openly with Israel, including the implementation of CSBMs, and discussion of this issue is specifically included in the agenda agreement.36 Regional CSBMs would also reinforce the stability of relations between Jordan and its Arab neighbors, Syria and Iraq, which have posed major threats to the regime.

The Arab States and Conventional Arms Control

Egypt and the Arab states take the position that the Israeli technological capability and strategic links with the United States provide Jerusalem with conventional superiority, and they refute the argument that Arab conventional threats justify the I sraeli nuclear option. According to Karem, "Israel has been moving rapidly towards accomplishing self-reliance while increasing military cooperation at various intervals with key players in the Western world," removing any justification a nuclear deterre nt.37

Egypt, Syria, and the major Arab states have not developed specific policies with respect to limitations on conventional weapons. In some public forums and international meetings, Arab representatives have made reference to such limitations in the co ntext of confidence building measures, but without specifics. The Egyptian position, as presented in a 1991 letter to the United Nations Secretary General, allows for conventional arms reduction after "ridding the region of weapons of mass destruction" a nd "when political circumstances permit, following the achievement of peace in the region or, at least, once the peace process has made substantial progress..."38 The links between conventional and non-conventional arms control have been explicitly ackno wledged by Yezid Sayigh, who is coordinator of the Palestinian ACRS delegation. In contrast to the Egyptian position, Sayigh notes that linkage between these two areas is necessary, and that "nuclear disarmament and the establishment of a nuclear-free zo ne could be delayed until the conventional threat was removed."39

If there is to be an agreement between Israel and Syria, limitations on the deployment of conventional forces will be necessary. This issue has been discussed in Israel, and between the Israeli and American governments, but there is little informatio n regarding a Syrian position. The Syrians accepted limited force and demilitarized zones in the context of the 1974 disengagement agreements, but Israeli withdrawal from the strategically important Golan Heights, which dominate northern Israel, will req uire more extensive limitations. According to press reports, in the bilateral negotiations, the Syrian delegation has demanded equal demilitarization of territory on both sides of the border following an Israeli withdrawal. A zone forty kilometers wide would extend to halfway across Israel. This is considered to be an maximalist bargaining position, or a means of avoiding the issue, and has prompted an Egyptian spokesman to note that "if all Arab parties demanded such mutual demilitarization, there woul d be no Israel left."40

Some analysts argue that the high economic, social, and political costs of arms acquisition programs will encourage the Arab states to reduce spending on conventional weapons, facilitating explicit or tacit limitations.41 Even Saudi Arabia now operat es with a major budgetary deficit, largely the result of multi-billion dollar arms purchases. Countries such as Syria and Libya, and, to a lesser degree, Iraq, that had relied on the Soviet Union for advanced weapons, have lost their major supplier. As a result, it is argued, Damascus should be more receptive to conventional arms reduction proposals.

However, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia continue to allocate billions of dollars annually to the acquisition of conventional weapons, and there are few signs of any change in these policies. Despite the continuing economic crisis, Egypt is producing M-1 A-1 main battle tanks, and Syria spent over $1 billion in 1992 to purchase major weapons platforms from Russia, Central Asian republics, and Eastern Europe.42 These continued acquisitions, irrespective of the rising economic and political consequence s, are the result, in part, of the impact of the Gulf War. In addition, in most Arab states, the military plays a dominant role in the government and in the socio-economic structure, and conventional arms limitations are resisted by the officer corps.43 Thus, in absence of major political changes, the prospects of economic pressures leading to conventional arms limitations are slim.


Despite the conflicting views, there are some substantive measures that can potentially bridge these gaps. The differences between the Israeli and Egyptian positions are based on contrasting interests, perceptions, and security concerns. Greater awa reness of each others' threat perceptions, experiences, and policies, as well as shared interests and common fears, would be useful. More concrete measures would include implementation of confidence and security-building measures, explicit discussion of limits on conventional weapons, and development of the technology and framework for regional verification and inspection mechanisms for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

Seminar on Regional Security

The first sessions of the multilateral working group on arms control, held in Washington and Moscow, were devoted to a series of seminars to familiarize the participants with the issues and background, particularly with respect to the US-Soviet and Eu ropean arms control experience.

As could have been expected, in these meetings and discussions, both formal and informal, Arab and Israeli officials showed a wide gap in evaluation of each others' military capabilities and threat perceptions. Mahmoud Karem has observed that "Arab a nd Israeli security perceptions remain opposing in nature."44 Arms control is clearly inseparable from these issues, and without greater understanding on the nature of the threat and the military capabilities of each of the parties, progress towards mutu al limitations will be slow or impossible.

Given the differences in threat perceptions, a series of high level seminars or discussions on these issues would be a useful contribution to the arms control and CSBM process. Such seminars would give the Israelis an opportunity to present their per ceptions of the threat posed by Arab conventional forces, and would give the Arabs a forum to discuss their perceptions of Israeli technological superiority. The strategic dialogues between the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War, and more recently, in Asia, involving India and Pakistan, may provide useful precedents in the transformation from a zero-sum to positive-sum relationship.

In the Cold War, worst case analyses and a overarching security dilemma contributed to instability. A series of strategic discussions, including the 1967 Glassboro summit, with the particular focus on the instabilities of ballistic missile defenses, paved the way for the 1972 ABM and SALT agreements. Similarly, in the Middle East, by examining the opposing positions in a broader analytic framework, and addressing threat perceptions explicitly, it may be easier to discuss the conflicting views, and t o define arms limitation policies that minimize the common risks of accidental war, and maximize mutual interests.


As in the case of US-Soviet arms control and the CSCE, greater transparency and confidence and security-building measures, that do not involve significant risks and do not require extensive verification systems, can provide a foundation for more ambit ious measures. As noted above, the Israeli-Egyptian peace process includes frequent consultations and direct communications links between military forces.

The participants in the May 1993 meeting of the multilateral working group agreed to a number of inter-sessional activities, including workshops and demonstrations on military exchanges of information and prenotification of certain military activities in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), led by Turkey; communications CBMs, led by the Netherlands; incidents at sea and search and rescue, led by Canada; and declaratory CBMs and long-term objectives, led by the US and Russia. I n addition, representatives of the states have participated in site-visits to NATO bases and observed exercises to learn about the measures adopted by the CSCE.

With the agreements signed between Israel and the PLO and the framework agreement with Jordan, the prospects for the implementation of CSBMs involving Israel, Jordan and Egypt have increased. Indeed, the first step in this direction was taken in a m eeting of the multilateral group in November 1993, when the participants essentially agreed to participate in a regional communications system, linked to the CSCE network located in the Hague. The next steps may be the establishment of a formal crisis ma nagement mechanism based on or linked to the CSCE Conflict Prevention Centre in Vienna, followed by prenotification of major military exercises and greater transparency with respect to the acquisition of major new weapons. Conventional Weapons Limitations

As noted above, Israeli policy firmly links limits on its nuclear program to limitations on the Arab conventional arsenals. Discussions of conventional arms limitations within the framework of the multilateral working group would provide a means of ex amining the implications of this link. This process should include the major arms recipients (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Syria, if this country can be brought into the multilateral framework), as well as the major conventional arms suppliers (all of the P-5 and G-7 states).

This group can consider a variety of proposals, such as agreed guidelines for arms transfers, formal notification of pending arms sales, and the United Nations arms transfer registry. Lessons from the 1950 Tripartite Agreement and other largely unsucc essful supplier limitation efforts should be examined. One possible approach would be a freeze on the transfer of major weapons platforms into the region (combat aircraft, main battle tanks, artillery launchers, etc.)45 In addition, issues such as verif ication, and limits on local arms industries (which can upgrade weapons, but are not capable of producing new platforms independently), can be included.

To date, the announcements of initiatives by the major suppliers have not had much credibility. In the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, the US, Britain, France, and Canada each published proposals, but all continue to sell arms. President Bush's May 1991 M iddle East Arms Control Initiative included limits on the transfer of conventional arms, but with no visible impact on policy. Renewed emphasis in this area would be viewed with some skepticism, but agreement and implementation of guidelines could have s ome impact on the states in the region.

In addition, changes in conventional force structures, including reduction of standing forces and the adoption of reserve systems in Arab countries, can also be considered in this context. Reserve forces are inherently less threatening, reduce the t hreat of surprise attack, and their offensive potential is greatly reduced.46

Regional Verification Technology and Frameworks

As noted above, in the area of nuclear arms control, Israel rejects existing verification mechanisms and the structure of the IAEA as inadequate for the Middle East. While the gap remains large, some of the necessary elements for a comprehensive appr oach can be developed, including the technology for verification, and the political and organization framework. Some of these were discussed in the multilateral workshop that took place in Cairo in July 1993.

A further step could involve identification and demonstration programs for verification technologies for nuclear, chemical, biological, and conventional weapons. American and Russian technical experts can participate (in an extension of the seminars that have been held), but it is important that the research and development be guided by the participants from the region. This process would, in itself, be an important form of confidence building, while the substance would provide the infrastructure fo r implementation of verification systems in the region.

The political and procedural details for regional verification and inspection can also be examined in this context. Mechanisms for challenge inspections, continuous monitoring of specific facilities by multinational teams, and procedures for dealing with disagreements, suspected violations, and "breakout" must also be considered. In this way, the longer-term question of links with the global IAEA and NPT regime can be postponed. The Art of the Possible

In addition to seeking measures that can accelerate this process, it is also important to identify policies and proposals that are likely to cause resistance and block progress. As noted, many proposals focus on immediate Israeli acceptance of unilat eral limits on operations at the Dimona reactor complex.

Israeli policy-makers have firmly rejected unilateral changes in the policy of "deliberate ambiguity".47 Such proposals are seen as the first steps "down the slippery slope" which will lead, in the longer term, to the end of the strategic deterrent, thereby reviving the basis for large-scale Arab attacks. Even if Israeli acceptance of limits of its nuclear activities would be matched by similar limitations by all the other states in the region, and even if adherence to the agreements could be someho w guaranteed, without regional peace agreements, limits on conventional weapons, and stability, Israeli policy-makers reject this trade-off as insufficient to meet their security requirements.

Acceptance of unilateral restraints in this area would also be inconsistent with the emphasis on regionally based mutual verification. Israeli policy-makers fear that any incentives that the Arab states have to participate in regional regimes would di sappear if Israel were to act unilaterally.

In addition, Iran and Algeria are seen as likely to continue to pursue nuclear weapons, and an unconditional "freeze" at Dimona could even spur the efforts of the other states to gain a clear advantage. Thus, external pressures to make concessions on these vital points, or to accept ad-hoc and unilateral measures that fail to tangibly and visibly contribute to Israeli security, are likely to be rejected by the Israeli government.

At the same time, Egypt, as well as the other Arab states, have indicated that they will reject limitations or restrictions unless Israel agrees to include the issue of nuclear weapons at some point in the arms control process. In other words, the fu ture of Dimona, and the nuclear programs of other states in the region, must be on the agenda. To make progress, Israel will have to be more explicit about the conditions under which it would accept limitations on its nuclear activities.


After decades of intense animosity and two years of negotiations, the first steps towards amelioration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were taken in September 1993. Further agreements between Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan regarding the West Bank and Gaza Strip will include provisions for demilitarization and limited force zones, as well as verification and monitoring of these limitations. Additional arms control measures will not be required at this stage, although they will be important i n negotiating redeployment on the Golan Heights and developing stable security relationships in the Middle East.

Arms control and confidence building are central to the Arab-Israeli peace process, but to make significant progress existing asymmetries, structural imbalances, and differences in perceptions must be taken into account. Given the long history of con flict and the central role of military power in the region, negotiations for arms limitations and reductions are likely to be lengthy and complex. This process will be incremental, proceeding cautiously on a step-by-step basis, and rapid progress or sudd en breakthroughs should not be expected.

Although the US and other external powers can provide assistance, they cannot control the process or overcome resistance to measures that are seen as endangering national security. Outsiders can have an influence by restricting the sale of weapons, a nd contributing to the development and testing of verification technology.

For this process to succeed, the key regional states - Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria - must be actively involved and must view mutual limitations as realistic means for enhancing national security and regional stability. Progress will depend on whether the political and military leaders in these countries perceive unrestrained acquisitions and deployments of advanced weapons as dangerous. Fundamental changes in the perceptions of these leaders will be required before substantive agre ements to limit conventional and non-conventional weapons are likely.

Although general discussions are taken place, the parameters are still being debated, and arms control negotiations for the Middle East have not really begun yet. To move regional arms control negotiations to the next stage, significant advances in t he political negotiations are necessary, including the successful implementation of peace agreements involving Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan, and Syria. In addition, the radical states, such as Iran, Iraq, and Libya must also be persuaded to join this process. Until these pre-conditions are met, efforts to force the pace and skip stages are likely to be rejected and could block progress in the long term.

Acknowledgements: This article is part of the project on Middle East Arms Control, funded by a grant from the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University. I am grateful to Prof. Stuart Cohen for his comments on an earlier draft.

1.Address by the Foreign Minister of Israel, Mr. Shimon Peres at the Signing Ceremony of the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty, Paris, 13 January 1993 (Jerusalem: Foreign Ministry)
2.Michael B. Oren, "The Tripartite System and Arms Control in the Middle East: 1950-1956", in Arms Control in the Middle East, Dore Gold, editor, (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1990)
3.Shalheveth Freier, "A Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East and its Ambience", unpublished manuscript (1992)
4.Asher Arian, "Israel and the Peace Process: Security and Political Attitudes in 1993", Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies Memorandum No. 39, Tel Aviv University, February 1993, p.12
5.Jonathan Shimshoni, Israel and Conventional Deterrence, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988)
6.Avner Yaniv, Deterrence without the Bomb: The Politics of Israeli Strategy, (Lexington Mass.: Lexington Books, 1987)
7.Peres, op. cit. in note 1; see also Freier, op. cit. in note 3
8.Peres, op. cit. in note 1
9.Ariel E. Levite, "Confidence and Security Building Measures in the Middle East", draft of paper presented at the UNIDIR Conference, Cairo April 18-20, 1993.
10.See, for example, Shai Feldman, Israeli Nuclear Deterrence, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), pp.61-2
11.Michael Eisenstadt, "Arming for Peace? Syria's Elusive Quest for 'Strategic Parity", Policy Paper No. 31, (Washington: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1992)
12.The Middle East Military Balance 1992-3, (Tel Aviv: Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, 1993) p.440
13.Dore Gold, "US Policy Toward Israel's Qualitative Edge" Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Report No. 36, (Tel Aviv: The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, 1992).
14.Geoffrey Kemp, The Control of the Middle East Arms Race (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1992) p.180. See also Alan Platt, editor, Arms Control and Confidence Building in the Middle East (Washington, DC: United States I nstitute for Peace, 1992)
15.Freier, op. cit. in note 3.
16.Lawrence Scheinman, "Nuclear Safeguards and Non-Proliferation in a Changing World Order", Security Dialogue Vol. 23, Number 4, December 1992, pp. 41-48
17.Avi Beker, Disarmament Without Order: The Politics of Disarmament in the United Nations (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985; and Avi Beker,"A Regional Non-Proliferation Treaty for the Middle East", Security or Armageddon: Israel's Nuclear Strategy, Lo uis Rene Beres, editor, Lexington, Ma., Lexington Books, 1985
18.Davar 23 April 1993
19.Application of IAEA Safeguards in the Middle East, Draft Resolution submitted by Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, IAEA General Conference, (XXXV II)/1086 29 September 1993
20.UN document A/46/329,5/22855,30 July 1991, Letter from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt to the Secretary General of the UN
21.Mahmoud Karem, A Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East: Problems and Prospects (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988); Yezid Sayigh, "Reversing the Middle East Nuclear Race", Middle East Report, No. 177, Vol. 22, no. 4 (July - August 1992) p.16
22.For an American view, see Lewis A. Dunn, Containing Nuclear Proliferation, Adelphi Paper 263, (London, IISS, 1991)
23.Karem, op. cit. note 21
24.Daniel Mustacchi, Can a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone be Established in the Middle East? If so, under what conditions? Unpublished M.A. Thesis, Department of International Relations, Hebrew University, Jerusalem September 1992.
25.Mohamed Nabil Fahmy, "Egypt's disarmament initiative", The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 1990, p.9
26.ibid., pp.9-10; see also Sayigh, op. cit. note 21
27.Establishment of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Region of the Middle East Report of the Secretary General, Replies Received from Governments United Nations General Assembly, A/46/291, 25 July 1991 (cited by Mustacchi)
28.James Markham, "Arabs Link Curbs on Gas and A-Arms", New York Times, 8 January 1989, p.A8
29.Cited by Geoffrey Kemp, "'Solving the Proliferation Problem in the Middle East", in New Threats: Responding to the Proliferation of Nuclear, Chemical, and Delivery Capabilities in the Threat World, (Lanham, Md: University Press of America, 1990) p. 203
30.Jerusalem Post, 17 January 1993 citing al-Thawra (Damascus)
31.Statement by Dr. Mounir Zahran, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the United Nations Office and Other International Organizations in Geneva on Regional Disarmament, before the UNIDIR Regional Conference of Research Institutes in the Middle East, Cairo, April 18, 1993, p.1, 6
32.Fahmy, op. cit., note 25, p.10
33.El-Saysed Amin Shalaby, "Egypt's Foreign Policy: 1952-1992", Security Dialogue, Vol. 23, Number 3, September 1992
34.See M.I. Shaker, "The Third NPT Review Conference: Issues and Prospects", in Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Global Security, David Dewitt, ed., Croom Helm, London, 1987; Mohamed I. Shaker, "The 1995 NPT Conference: A Rejoinder", Security Dialogue V ol. 23, No. 4, December 1992
35.Application of IAEA Safeguards in the Middle East, Draft Resolution submitted by Egypt, etc. IAEA General Conference, (XXXVII)/1086 29 September 1993
36.Abdullah Toukan, "Strengthening and Creation of Institutional Mechanisms for Middle Eastern Security and Disarmament", presented at the UNIDIR Conference on Research Institutes in the Middle East, Cairo, April 18-19 1993
37.Mahmoud Karem, "The Middle East" in Regional Approaches to Disarmament: Security and Stability, Jayantha Dhanapala, editor, (Aldershot: Dartmouth, 1993), p.120
38.UN document A/46/329,5/22855,30 July 1991, Letter from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt to the Secretary General of the UN
39.Sayigh, op. cit. in note 21, pp.18
40.Ha'aretz, 14 October 1993, p.1
41.Yahya M. Sadowski, Scuds or Butter? The Political Economy of Arms Control in the Middle East, (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1993), p.25-6
42.Between 1990 and 1992, Syrian purchases included 1400 T-72 tanks, 48 MiG-29 and 24 Su-24 aircraft from Russia, 250 Bulgarian made self-propelled artillery. Michael Eisenstadt, "Arming for Peace? Syria's Elusive Quest for 'Strategic Parity", The Was hington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Paper No. 31, 1992, p.37; see also David Butter, "Syria Reaps Rewards of Regional Policies", Middle East Economic Digest, September 27, 1991, p.4
43.See J.C. Hurewitz, Middle East Politics: The Military Dimension, (New York: Praeger, 1969); Yahya Sadowski, "Sandstorm with a Silver Lining? Prospects for Arms Control in the Arab World", The Brookings Review, Summer 1992, p. 10
44.Karem, op. cit. in note 37
45.See Gerald M. Steinberg, "Opportunities for Conventional Arms Limitations in the Middle East and Persian Gulf", in Andrew Pierre, editor, Conventional Arms Sales in the 1990s, forthcoming
46.Shai Feldman, "Pikuach V'Bakarat Neshek: Seder Yom L'Yisrael", (Arms Control: An Agenda for Israel) (Tel Aviv: Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, 1991)
47.According to some articles in the Israeli press, environmental as well as operational considerations have led to reduced operations at Dimona, and could lead to a broader shut-down. See Aluf Ben "Freezing the Plutonium", (Hebrew) Ha'aretz, 13 Octob er 1993, p.1b. However, there has been no change in the official Israeli position, and no public indication that Israel was prepared to allow any form of external inspection on a unilateral basis.