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Middle East expert sees nuclear arms race
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Middle East expert sees nuclear arms race

AJC speaker says deal with Iran destabilizes already volatile region

Avi Melamed, an Israeli-born expert on Arabs and the Middle East, said the Arab world is searching for stability.
Avi Melamed, an Israeli-born expert on Arabs and the Middle East, said the Arab world is searching for stability.

An expert on the Arab and Muslim worlds says the Obama administration’s determination to achieve a nuclear agreement with Iran has “thrown the Arab world under the bus.” 

Speaking to members of the American Jewish Committee in Jersey City, Avi Melamed said Iran’s neighbors feel threatened by the possibility of a nuclear Iran, and might seek nukes of their own.

“The voices in the Arab world are very clear about it: ‘If Iran is going to have a nuclear capacity, we should also have one,’” said the Jerusalem-born Melamed, a Fellow of Intelligence and Middle East Affairs of the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. 

“The Middle East is entering a military nuclear arms race, with the Saudis exploring nuclear arms deals with the Pakistani and South Korean governments and the Egyptians negotiating with the Russians,” he said.

Melamed spoke May 3 before 50 members of the AJC’s Metro and Bergen regions at the Liberty Science Center. 

Melamed is a former Israeli intelligence officer who said he has no current connections with any of the country’s government agencies; he declared that “99 percent of his information is based on Arab sources.”

Referring to the Arab Spring as the “Arab awakening,” Melamed called it “the outcry of millions and millions of people in the Arab societies who demand their governments and leaders give real answers for real problems — housing solutions, employment opportunities, running water, medical services, reliability, transparency — all of the things at the end of the day that life is simply made for. It is not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is not about Israel. It is not about settlements. It is about the challenges of the Arab world.”

He said the key struggle in the Arab countries is one between the “massive camps of Sunnis and Shiites.” Noting that 85 percent of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis, Melamed said the bitter conflict began in the year 680 over a violent struggle over who would succeed the prophet Muhammad as caliph.

“Ever since, they have been totally butchering each other…. The Shiites have been motivated ever since by the belief they have been deprived of the right to lead the Muslim world,” he said.

“Fast forward to 1979, the revolution in Iran, when the mullahs came to power, motivated by the need to undo the wrong done to the Shiites in 680 and the exporting of the Islamic revolution in the Middle East…to make Iran basically the superpower in the region. 

“Iran took advantage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the spearhead which defends the Palestinians,” he said. It triggered what Iranians call “the resistance” — “a code word for the elimination of Israel. No compromise, no concessions, no dialogue, no peace, no nothing.”

Melamed said Iran nurtured Hizbullah in Lebanon “by providing it with weapons, munitions, funds, salaries, and so forth to the point where Lebanon actually became an Iranian satellite.”

Although Hizbullah is Shiite, Melamed said, Iran is also bankrolling the Sunni Hamas “as one of the major proxies of the Iranian regime in the context of building this resistance.”

In addition to Arab concerns over Iran’s nuclear intentions and the ancient Sunni-Shiite warfare, Melamed said a third source of conflict is the struggle over political Islam. 

He said the once-powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted after one year of governing Egypt, advocates gradual evolution into “one big caliphate” rather than separate nation-states governed by Sharia law. But, he noted, the Muslim Brotherhood’s power is weakening “because it cannot offer to people answers to their real problems.”

Another camp “is associated with civil society states that are based upon not only the Islamist religious law but modern independent values.”

The third camp is radical Islam, represented by extremist groups like Isis, which says, “‘We want a caliphate and we do not want to wait. We want to make it happen now.’”

He said the radicals’ top priority “is not to kill Americans or Jews or Christians but to topple down the political structure of the Arab world. Saudi Arabia must go down, Jordan must go down — Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, everywhere.”

Although Melamed said that “none of these conflicts have anything to do with Israel, they have everything to do with Israel because Israel is located right there in the middle.”

Despite the hazards, however, Israel has new opportunities to build coalitions and provide more stability to such needy nations as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt. 

“There are major factors on the ground in the Middle East that were almost unthinkable yesterday,” he said. “The name of the game is the need for stability.” 

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