The introduction of nuclear energy into the Middle East should not be seen as a foregone conclusion.

The danger of a proliferation cascade in the Middle East, while real, is not imminent. Although some countries may be positioning themselves to be able eventually to produce fissile material, no country is known or seriously believed to be pursuing a nuclear-weapons programme as a result of Iran’s activities. Syria’s nuclear motivations are unclear but were not likely to have been driven by concerns about Iran. Israel’s programme long predates the Iranian nuclear threat. Apart from Israel, Iraq before 1991, Iran and, on a far smaller scale, Egypt and Algeria (which possess small-scale hot-cell complexes), no country in the region is known to have uranium-enrichment or plutonium-reprocessing capabilities. Over time, Iran’s programme could become a powerful regional proliferation driver, building on regional rivalry, security concerns and one-upmanship. For the time being, these considerations are contributing to a regional surge in interest in nuclear energy. The question is how to keep this interest confined to purely civilian nuclear programmes. The time frame inherent in such programmes helps. Although power-plant construction can take as little as four to five years, the preparatory requirements mean that nuclear-energy aspirations in the Middle East are at least ten to 15 years away from fulfilment.1 The conditions needed for the introduction of nuclear power – including electricity grids, trained personnel, safety regulations and a framework establishing legal responsibility – are lacking or underdeveloped in the region. For many of the countries concerned, financial means remain limited in relation to the huge capital costs involved in the building of nuclear power plants and their associated physical and regulatory infrastructure and manpower requirements. The delays typical to the industry and the competing demand from betterprepared customers in larger markets elsewhere in the world will probably lengthen the timeline further. Barring shortcuts supplied by black-market or other foreign assistance, nuclear-weapons development timelines can be expected to be longer still.

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Strategic Dossiers

Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the shadow of Iran

A history of nuclear programmes in the region, including Israel and Turkey, an evaluation of national nuclear capabilities and policies, and an analysis of future aspirations.

Strategic Dossier Press

Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East

A press release for the launch of this Strategic Dossier is available here.

A press statement for the launch of this Strategic Dossier is available here.

Strategic Dossiers

Harnessing the Institute's technical expertise to present detailed information on the key strategic issues.