Israel urged to follow example
JERUSALEM -- A day after Moammar Khadafy announced that Libya would dismantle its weapons of mass destruction, Arab leaders urged Israel to follow suit, saying the Jewish state should not be exempted from efforts to disarm the Middle East.
Israel welcomed Khadafy's announcement but said it would wait to see whether he will follow through. Meanwhile, some Palestinians saw Khadafy's move as an expression of Arab weakness and fear of the United States.
Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, told reporters that the United States and other countries should focus their attention on the Jewish state, describing it as the only country in the region with nuclear weapons.
"It's important during this period that the international community put pressure on Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," Moussa said in Cairo, which is the host for the 22-nation league. "It's not logical to make an exception for Israel while other countries are called on to eliminate WMDs."
Israel neither confirms nor denies possessing nuclear weapons but is widely believed to have been manufacturing them since the 1960s in a processing plant near the southern city of Dimona.
Experts believe Israel's atomic arsenal includes 200 weapons that can be mounted on missiles or dropped from warplanes. But for decades, Israel has kept to a policy of "nuclear ambiguity," saying only that it will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons to the region.
The prevalent belief that Israel possesses nuclear weapons has led to accusations by Arabs that the United States maintains a double standard, pressing such countries as Libya and Iran to scrap their weapons programs while overlooking Israel's.
Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Maher, who is due for talks in Israel this week, also urged the international community to continue the process of disarming countries in the region but made only a veiled reference to the Jewish state.
Maher told reporters that countries of the world should help "put an end to any nuclear weapons production program" in the Middle East. Asked whether that meant Israel's, he said, "You know, of course, who I mean."
Israel regularly sounds public warnings about the weapons programs of Arab and Muslim countries. Just over a year ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Libya was "very energetically working on the development of a nuclear bomb" and had advanced further than any other Arab state.
US and British security agents who recently visited Libya and were allowed to inspect its weapons facilities said the country had been developing some amounts of nuclear fuel.
Abdel Sattar Qassem, a Palestinian political scientist, said Khadafy "wanted to be the new Nasser" -- the president of Egypt in the 1950s and '60s who was viewed in his time as the region's foremost Arab leader. "But he's showing himself to be a coward," Qassem said. "He's afraid of the United States and afraid of ending up like Saddam Hussein."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.