The Middle East superpower club
As peace process falters, arms race heats up
June 4, 1997
Web posted at: 6:20 p.m. EDT (2220 GMT)
From Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Until recently, two simultaneous yet
contradictory forces have been at work in the Middle East: a
peace process and an arms race. But with the peace process
comatose, only the sprint for munitions remains.
For now, Israel is sole superpower in the Middle East. But
Iran and Egypt are aiming for that exclusive club, and nearly
every country in the region -- from Turkey in the north,
striving to modernize its forces, to Syria, Jordan and Saudi
Arabia -- are shopping for weapons again.
"They are doing their utmost in order to catch up," said
Maj. Gen. Matan Vilnai, the Israeli army deputy chief of
staff. "And we have to do our utmost, with the support of the
USA, to keep this qualitative edge all the time."
Syria, for example, has struck deals with North Korea and
China to improve its military capability, said Paul Beaver
of Jane's Defense Weekly. "It's made the Israelis rush in a
ballistic missile defense system to protect themselves."
And every country in the region is scrambling to build
alliances, not unlike Europe on the eve of World War I.
Iran has paired with Syria, with Israel as their shared
mortal enemy. Meanwhile, Israel and Turkey have a tacit
alliance to flank the Syrians.
Iranian money helped elect a fundamentalist prime minister
in Turkey, so Israel and the secular Turkish army have a
common bond, fighting Islamic fundamentalism spawned in Iran.
"We now have common enemies," said Ron Ben-Yishai, an
Israeli military analyst. "'The enemy of my enemy is my
friend' is a common rule in the Middle East."
Even the peace process has fueled the arms race. It has
given Arab countries greater access to advanced American
weaponry. U.S. allies in the Gulf War are being rewarded.
And another old arms merchant wants back in the game.
"The Russians are pushing toward Iran; they are even trying
to sell arms to Cyprus," said Israeli military analyst Zeev
This latest Middle East arms race has an ominous new
dimension: chemical, biological and nuclear weapons quests.
With no real peace process to offset this trend, many fear
the region is quietly slipping back into instability and
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