World News

Gulf Arabs see Israel stopping Iran bomb

LONDON (Reuters) - Gulf states believe Israel will destroy Iran’s nuclear programme rather than allow it to acquire an atomic bomb, an adviser to the Kuwaiti government and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said on Tuesday.

If Iran did build the bomb, said adviser Sami Alfaraj, then the Jewish state might be one of the countries -- along with the United States and Pakistan -- Gulf Arab nations would ask to provide a “nuclear umbrella” to guarantee their security.

Alfaraj, president of the Kuwait Centre for Strategic Studies, said Israel might bomb Iranian nuclear facilities in the same way it destroyed Iraq’s main atomic reactor at Osirak with a military strike in 1981.

“I believe in something on the same Iraqi model...We are assuming in the Gulf that Israel will take it out. We are not saying that, but Israel would,” Alfaraj told Reuters at the start of an analyst ‘roadshow’ organised by Realite-EU, an independent body which tracks Middle East security developments.

Iran denies seeking atomic weapons, saying it wants to develop a civilian nuclear programme to generate electricity and enable it to export more oil.

The prospect of a U.S. military strike on Iran receded sharply after a U.S. intelligence report in December said Tehran had apparently halted an active atomic bomb programme in 2003.

Israel has continued to take a hawkish stance. “We are certain that the Iranians are engaged in a serious...clandestine operation to build up a non-conventional capacity,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on a visit to Germany on Tuesday.

Olmert said “no option is ruled out” in countering the alleged nuclear weapons programme.

Alfaraj, who advises the GCC secretary general and the Kuwaiti prime minister, foreign ministry and National Security Bureau, said a nuclear-armed Iran would trigger a arms race beyond the Gulf region, drawing in states like Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Kazakhstan.

States that could not develop their own atomic weapons would seek a “nuclear umbrella”, he said, adding: “I do not dismiss an Israeli nuclear umbrella, I do not”.

Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said Iran could develop a bomb “under the radar” in the same way that Pakistan emerged as an atomic power in 1998.

“The great danger is they will get to a point and surprise us, we’ll wake up one morning and there’s an announcement that there’s been an Iranian nuclear test,” he said.

Editing by Matthew Jones