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Atomic Power Growth.

IAEA officials say the largest growth in nuclear power is likely to occur in China, India, Russia, the US and South Africa, with Argentina, Finland and France following close behind. The US has 103 operating plants, more than any other country, and up to 31 additional plants are under consideration or have begun the regulatory process. But other nations are following close behind.

Oil-rich Nigeria and Indonesia are preparing to build nuclear power plants. Belorussia and Vietnam have approached the IAEA for advice. Algeria signed a deal with Russia in January on possible nuclear co-operation. Algeria expected to sign an agreement with the US on June 9 for nuclear co-operation. Morocco and Poland are said to be mulling nuclear power. Myanmar has disclosed that it intends to purchase a Russian research reactor. Even Sudan, one of the world's poorest countries, has expressed interest. So far, the nuclear programs around Iran remain in the early planning stages.

The Middle East Nuclear Programmes: The Middle East's nuclear activities have dominated the headlines over the past few years, mainly because of Iran's nuclear programme and the flurry of diplomacy surrounding it. States having budding nuclear programmes are looking to spread their wings, while others have begun inquiring about their options in this field.

All the nuclear newcomers in the region, including Iran, claim their programmes have peaceful purposes. But Iran's ambitions create a feeling that a nuclear race is underway, and that these states are not only seeking new energy sources, but also wish to maintain a strategic balance in the region. The following outlines the main atomic developments in the Middle East.

Israel: The international community widely believes that Israel has a nuclear weapons programme, but the Jewish state usually denies this. The information regarding Israel's nuclear programme is mostly based on news reports and foreign sources.

The founding idea for the Israeli nuclear programme was the determination that, despite being a small country surrounded by hostile states, Israel would provide a safe haven for Jews from all over the world so that the Holocaust would never be repeated. As early as 1949, the Hemed Gimmel, a special unit of the Israeli army's Science Corps started to search for uranium reserves in the Negev desert.

The Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) was founded in 1952 and was headed by Dr. Ernst David Bergmann. During a visit by Francis Perrin, a member of the French Atomic Energy Commission, a decision was taken to establish a partnership between the two countries. Both Israel and France were at a similar level of expertise after World War II, lagging behind the US, the Soviet Union and the UK. Progress in nuclear science and technology in France and Israel remained closely linked throughout the 1950s. The 1956 Suez crisis became the real genesis of Israel's nuclear programme.

On Nov. 7, 1956, a secret meeting was held between then Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir, senior defence official Shimon Peres, and French Foreign Minister Christian Pineau and French Defence Minister Maurice Bourges-Manoury. The French, embarrassed by their failure to support their ally in the Suez operation, found the Israelis were deeply concerned about a growing Soviet threat. This meeting resulted in a modified version of the initial understanding beyond research assistance, and a decision for construction of the underground Dimona nuclear facility in the northern Negev was taken.

The plant was surrounded by secrecy. Only two years after the start of construction did the Israelis reveal the true nature of the facility to their main ally, the US. After heavy pressure, Israel allowed the US to send in inspectors. However, these inspections only included the top floors of the facility, while the lower levels were kept concealed.

In 1962 the Dimona reactor began operation; the French resumed work on the underground plutonium reprocessing plant and completed it in 1964 or 1965. Israel still lacked sufficient quantities of heavy water and uranium to run the facility at a high volume, so the heavy water was acquired from Norway with the assistance of France and the US. Through an undercover operation, the uranium was smuggled from Antwerp in Belgium using a West German front company and the material was handed over in the middle of the Mediterranean.

One of the difficulties Israel faced was where to test its nuclear weapons due to the lack of space in the country. At first it was done in co-operation with France. It is assumed that at a later stage South Africa was the prime partner for both the testing and as a supplier of uranium.

Mordechai Vanunu still meets journalists in Jerusalem, despite a court ban. In 1985 a former technician at the Dimona plant, Vanunu revealed secret photos and data from Dimona which were later published in the London Sunday Times. His data show a programme of over 200 bombs, with boosted devices, neutron bombs, F-16 deliverable warheads and Jericho warheads. The photographs showed sophisticated designs which scientific experts say enabled the Israelis to build bombs with as little as four kilogrammes of plutonium.

For many years Israel did not have an explicit nuclear doctrine beyond insisting that the Jewish state would not have nuclear weapons. Instead, it has followed a policy of "nuclear ambiguity" - seemingly possessing nuclear weapons, while denying their existence.

Prof. Yair Evron, author of Israel's Nuclear Dilemma, says: "By now the posture of Israel's nuclear ambiguity has become diplomatic fiction. This is because it's widely believed in the world that Israel has a nuclear weapon capability". One of the main advantages of this posture is that it does not challenge other countries in the region to pursue similar nuclear goals.

The ambiguity was challenged in December 2006 when, during a visit to Germany, PM Olmert was quoted as saying: "Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level - when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons - as America, France, Israel, Russia?" Officials in Jerusalem later tried to backtrack on his comments, but the remarks sparked a debate on whether the policy was still valid and effective. Some critics say the ambiguity policy is outdated and even damaging to Israel, as it implies the government has something to hide. They argue that Israel should come clean and make its nuclear record public and transparent.

Evron does not agree with this notion, saying: "The ambiguous posture also comprises a certain element of self restraint. Israel should not give up the posture of ambiguity". Israel is not a signatory to the NPT.

Avner Cohen, senior scholar with the University of Maryland and author of "Israel and the Bomb", wrote on May 31: "Forty years ago, Israel became the world's sixth nuclear nation. As the Jewish state was facing the worst crisis in its history - the amassment of Egyptian troops in the Sinai Peninsula and the possibility of an imminent surprise aerial attack - Israeli scientists and technicians 'tickled the dragon' as they assembled the nation's first nuclear core. These crash efforts were aimed toward improvised nuclear explosive devices, not actual weapons.

"Those devices could not be used, or even delivered, in a genuine military fashion. They were crude, bulky, spider-like devices, somewhat reminiscent of the first atomic 'gadget' the United States had exploded (known as the 'Trinity' test) at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945.

"The rush to assemble an atomic device was not initiated in response to any concrete request from Israel's top political leadership - though there is little doubt that Prime Minister Levi Eshkol approved those emergency measures - and certainly not in connection with any particular military need. The initiative came from above, not from the top.

"At a time when Israel was setting up temporary burial sites for thousands of people, it was unthinkable for the leaders of the nuclear project to do business as usual. If the capability could be available, it must be available. For those few who were involved in this extremely secretive crash initiative it was an exceptionally emotional moment.

"Israel crossed the nuclear threshold in a crisis that evoked for Israelis a collective sense of siege and loneliness associated with memories of the Holocaust. This activity meant a solemn oath of Never Again. Yet there are two major differences between what the United States did in 1945 and what Israel did in 1967.

"First, the United States did test its first atomic device; Israel never did. Second, and more significantly, the United States subsequently used its first atomic weapons in anger; Israel never did. In 1967 Israel won a great conventional victory over three armies in six days. As the war ended there was obviously no need for atomic devices. When one senior officer suggested then that maybe this was the time for Israel to test the device, he was categorically ruled out. Israel kept its word not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the region.

"The Israeli narrative of the 1967 war never even mentioned the secret nuclear episode, as if it never happened. This was the nuclear legacy of the 1967 war.

"Israel has always been a different kind of nuclear proliferator - a reluctant proliferator. From the very beginning, Israel ran fast on the technology side, but remained ambivalent on the political side. Israeli military leaders in the 1960s, including Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, saw no clear military utility in nuclear weapons. Nor did they believe that Israel would likely ever need such weapons, at least as long as the Arab-Israeli conflict remained conventional. That nuclear capability was treated as a sacred national insurance policy.

"There are indications that before the 1967 war Eshkol and others entertained the notion that Israel's nuclear option might be bargained away in return for peace. Those explorations did not go too far, and they were ambivalent from the start. Even after the 1967 victory, Eshkol did not abandon his cautious nuclear policy. To his last days he was reluctant to reject outright the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Eshkol died in office in early 1969 without making a final decision on the nonproliferation treaty.

"Certain necessary and fateful nuclear decisions, including a decision not to sign the treaty, had to be made by Eshkol's successor, Golda Meir. But her decisions only highlighted and strengthened Israel's character as a reluctant proliferator.

"Israel is now uniquely distinguished among all nuclear states in its legacy of extreme nuclear caution, keeping nuclear affairs low profile, nearly invisible and away from politics.

"One more reason why the rise of nuclear Iran is so perilous is that it threatens to change the subtle nuclear ground rules in the Middle East that were built upon the nuclear legacy of the 1967 war. This legacy is a reminder of why a nuclear Iran must be prevented. If Iran's goes nuclear, then Israel's reluctant style of being nuclear will no doubt be replaced by a major nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East".

Pakistan: Islamabad's nuclear programme was initiated in 1971 by then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto after the state lost East Pakistan (today's Bangladesh) to India. In 1974, after India's successful testing of a nuclear device, Bhutto responded by announcing that Pakistan had to develop its own "Islamic bomb".

The arrival of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan a year later was a major advance for the programme. From May 1972 to December 1975 Khan was employed by the Physics Dynamic Research Laboratory (FDO), an engineering firm based in Amsterdam and a sub-contractor to the URENCO consortium specialising in the manufacture of nuclear equipment.

Khan stole blueprints for a uranium centrifuge from his job in Holland, a crime for which he was later convicted in absentia. One of Khan's first actions was to abandon the initial work being conducted with plutonium and, instead, convinced the Pakistani authorities to work with highly enriched uranium (HEU), which is less difficult to process and less expensive than plutonium.

As Pakistan lacked most of the necessary materials and technology for developing uranium enrichment capabilities, Khan set up an extensive clandestine network to acquire the various components. His documents and network, however, were not enough to establish a reliable uranium enrichment programme.

Many Western countries were worried by the nuclear build-up in Pakistan and decided to ban export parts and material which could be used in the production of nuclear weapons. To get the necessary parts, Pakistan turned to China.

It is estimated that, in the period 1980-1985, China provided Pakistan with designs for a warhead, as well as sufficient HEU for a few warheads. China helped in construction of an enrichment plant in Kahuta. Although the plant suffered from some initial start-up problems in 1985, Pakistan crossed the threshold of weapons-grade uranium production, and by 1986 it had produced enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

On May 28, 1998, Pakistan announced it had successfully conducted five nuclear tests just five days after India had completed a series of nuclear tests of its own.

During the 1990s Western intelligence agencies started to suspect that Khan was discussing the sale of nuclear technology to other states such as Libya and Iran. By early 2000 intelligence had revealed that these were not isolated incidents and the true scope of Khan's operations was discovered. He was identified as being at the centre of an international proliferation network. In view of these accusations, Khan was removed from his position as head of the Pakistan nuclear programme by President Pervez Musharraf in 2001.

It is estimated that today Pakistan has enough weapons-grade uranium to produce between 50 and 110 nuclear weapons. Altogether, Pakistan is thought to have produced between 1,110 and 1,440 kilogrammes of highly enriched uranium and may possess enough weapons-grade plutonium for the production of three to five weapons. Pakistan has not signed the NPT.

Iran: Iran's nuclear history began in the Pahlavi era in 1921, with construction of 20 reactors. These reactors were built for energy production, but since the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, it is assumed that Iran has redoubled its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missiles in a parallel clandestine nuclear programme. Thus, it is widely believed in the West that Iran initially followed a policy of both complying with the NPT and secretly developing nuclear weapons.

The NPT obligates the five compliant nuclear-weapons powers - the US, Russia, UK, France and China - not to transfer nuclear weapons or related technology, and only allows nuclear programmes for peaceful purposes. Critics say Iran was building its nuclear power programme in such a way that when the political decision was made, know-how gained in the peaceful sphere (specialists and equipment) could be used to create nuclear weapons. This alleged attempt is a breach of the NPT, which Iran signed in 1970.

In 1987 IAEA inspectors found a deal between Iran and Pakistan in which the latter agreed to help Tehran with centrifuges for uranium enrichment. Pakistan's Dr. Khan is said to have been the courier supplying Iran with both blueprints and the necessary parts. But Khan's help was not enough to set up a nuclear programme. In the early 1990s Iran reached out to China and Russia to acquire more technical support; in 1992, Russia agreed to complete the Bushehr plant located on the Persian Gulf coast and China agreed to provide two nuclear reactors. Negotiations to supply research and fuel cycle facilities were initiated.

The controversy around Bushehr sums up the differences of opinion about Iran's programme. Tehran argues that it is a plant built solely for power production and research. The US argues that, with Iran's huge oil and natural gas resources, the plant is unnecessary and its real purpose is to produce weapons-grade nuclear material. The plant was initially off limits to IAEA inspections, but Iran eventually allowed inspectors entry.

The extent of Iran's nuclear development was publicly disclosed in August 2002, when an opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, revealed the existence of two undeclared facilities and details about front firms set up to procure materials and equipment. One facility, near Arak, was identified as a plant to produce heavy water. The second, at Natanz, was identified as an underground facility still under construction to produce nuclear fuel. Later that year Natanz was identified as a probable gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment facility. UN inspections continued until, at the end of August 2003, the IAEA stated in a confidential report leaked to the media that trace elements HEU were found in an Iranian nuclear facility.

Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation (AEO) claims the traces of material came from the previous owner of the equipment. In June 2003 an IAEA report said Iran had not met the obligations required of it by the NPT. This was the starting point of a confrontation between the international community and Iran over the true nature of its nuclear programme. On Dec. 23, 2006 the UNSC gave Iran 60 days to halt production of weapons-grade uranium or face sanctions. During the same period Russia hinted that Iran was having problems keeping up its payments and delayed the delivery of parts and material for Bushehr. The UNSC in March 2007 gave Iran a similar period, but Tehran's response was defiant. The US now is pressing for further UNSC sanctions.

Iran's nuclear ambitions are a real concern for the US and other Western powers, which are unhappy with the prospect of the theocracy becoming a regional nuclear super-power. There are even fears the US will use military means to take out Iran's nuclear facilities, and possibly ignite a war.

In an article published in a supplement of MEED's April 20 issue, former US national security adviser Anthony Cordesman - now holding the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Centre for Strategic & International Studies in Washington - wrote: "Iran is not emerging as a serious power, but it can be deeply destabilising if its nuclear ambitions, links to Iraq, and threat to the Arab-Israeli peace process are not dealt with".

The GCC: At their summit in December 2006, the six GCC states announced a plan to explore the possibility of creating a shared peaceful nuclear programme. All the six GCC states are signatories of the NPT.

These states, uneasy about the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear power, have since maintained that their decision was made in order to meet fast-growing energy needs in their countries.

Emile al-Hokayem, a fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Centre, on May 27 was quoted as saying of the GCC atomic programme: "There is no doubt that the rationale for starting it is linked to the Iranian nuclear crisis". However, he stressed that construction of a nuclear programme took a long time and would rely on a considerable amount of outside help, adding: "If it's a collaborative nuclear programme it will be difficult for them to divert any fissile material at some point to build a nuclear weapon".

Egypt: Cairo in September 2006 announced plans to revive its nascent civilian nuclear programme. It originally began a programme in the 1950s and tried unsuccessfully to acquire nuclear weapons. The programme was scrapped after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, when Egypt became aware of the potential dangers of such a plan. But Egypt has since maintained a small nuclear research reactor.

Cairo wants to rebuild a nuclear power plant which would be operational by 2016, and has announced plans to seek foreign investment for this. The declared aim of this is to create a new source of energy. Egypt has signed the NPT. Egypt's oil production has declined considerably since the 1990s. Its reserves of natural gas, with a potential of 150 TCF, are already being used in a big way for the domestic energy market and for LNG exports.

Jordan: King Abdullah II in January 2007 announced plans for a peaceful nuclear programme in an interview with an Israeli newspaper. He said he would like to set up a nuclear power plant by 2015. His parliament endorsed several atomic energy bills in April 2007, laying the groundwork for developing a civilian nuclear programme.

The atomic energy draft law outlines the authorities of a nuclear commission which the government set up in 2001. The commission will be tasked with acquiring peaceful nuclear technology and establishing investment projects in this field.

Dr. ElBarade'i has said the IAEA is prepared to help Jordan acquire a peaceful nuclear programme. King Abdullah maintains that Jordan's nuclear programme would fall in line with international rules. As with other states in the region, Jordan says it plans to use the nuclear programme for generating electricity, desalinating water and in the fields of education, agriculture and medicine.

Jordan's reliance on neighbouring countries for energy and its scarce water sources may justify a nuclear energy programme. Jordan has signed the NPT.

Turkey: Like its neighbours, Turkey is not oblivious to the threat looming over its eastern border with Iran. Its Energy Minister Hilmi Guler said in March 2006 that the need for new energy sources was making the country's quest for nuclear energy a priority.

Turkey has announced plans to build five atomic energy plants. It plans to complete construction of three nuclear power stations by 2015. Ankara is reviving a nuclear programme after several attempts over the past few decades were shelved due to opposition from environmental groups. Turkey has signed the NPT.

Libya: In October 2003 a US-led naval operation intercepted a shipment of uranium-enrichment components bound for Libya. The operation resulted in the seizure of thousands of uranium centrifuge parts and became the beginning of the end of Libya's nuclear ambitions. Two months later, on Dec. 19, Libya's ruler Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi announced that Libya would give up its nuclear weapons programme.

The surprise announcement followed several months of secret talks among Libyan, US and UK officials. Libya agreed to abide by the NPT and to allow for immediate inspections and monitoring of its facilities.

Libya's nuclear history began in 1968 when the pro-West King Idris signed the NPT. Qadhafi led a coup which overthrew the king on Sept. 1, 1969. The NPT was signed six years later, but despite signing the treaty Libya showed no intention of abiding by it.

One of the main reasons for Qadhafi's desire to acquire nuclear weapons was his ambition to play a more dominant role in the Arab world and to counter Israel's alleged possession of nuclear weapons. Due to Libya's relatively low level of technical development, these efforts focused on foreign suppliers.

In 1970, for example, Libya reportedly made an unsuccessful attempt to purchase nuclear weapons from China. In 1974 Argentina sent a senior geologist to help search for possible uranium sources. This could be one of the reasons for Libya's 1975 invasion of the Aouzou Strip in Chad, an area considered rich in uranium. In 1978 Libyan agents allegedly tried to buy nuclear weapons from India.

There are many reports of nuclear dealings during the 1970s between Libya and Pakistan. These supposedly involved Libyan assistance to Pakistan in acquiring access to uranium ore concentrate from neighbouring Nigeria in return for Pakistani nuclear assistance to Libya. Whether these dealings laid the basis for later Libyan-Pakistani nuclear co-operation remains unclear.

Co-operation between Libya and Pakistan was intensified during the 1990s and, as in the case of Iran, one of the key actors on the Pakistani side was Dr. Khan. In 1997 Khan began to transfer centrifuges and centrifuge components to Libya. Libya received 20 assembled centrifuges and components for 200 additional units for a pilot enrichment facility.

In 2001 Libya obtained 1.87 tons of uranium hexafluoride. The source remains uncertain. However, it is commonly assumed that it came from Khan's network. In the same year, Khan provided Libya with blueprints of a nuclear weapon.

Libya received help from the Soviet Union with the construction in 1981 of a small reactor in Tajura, near Tripoli. Three years later a research centre was opened at the same site staffed by 750 Libyan specialists and technicians, assisted by Soviet staff.

Several reasons had been suggested as to why Qadhafi decided to abandon Libya's nuclear programme. First was his increasing desire to regain admission to the international community by renouncing terrorism and WMD. Second was the October 2003 interception of a ship bound for Libya with a cargo of Pakistani-designed centrifuge parts followed by the promise that long-standing international sanctions imposed because of Libya's terrorist activities would be lifted, leading to economic and other benefits.

These economic sanctions had been imposed after allegations of Libyan involvement in the 1988 blowing up of an American commercial flight over the Scottish village Lockerbie. The combination of the sanctions and the fact that Libya had to import both know-how and parts for its nuclear programme put the country in a difficult position. This was added to the fact that, despite almost 30 years of trying, the Libyan nuclear programme had achieved limited success and had cost an estimated $40 bn.

Now, however, Libya and the US are discussing American help for Tripoli to have its first civilian nuclear power plant. MEED on April 20, 2007, quoted an un-named "US government official" as confirming this and saying: "There is ongoing scientific co-operation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It is an area where we want to co-operate. There is talk of different ways of doing that". US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte arrived in Tripoli on April 17 - the highest-ranking American official to visit Libya since 1953. In mid-April Manpower, Employment Training Secretary (minister) Ma'touq Ma'touq said a nuclear power plant would be built to meet local demand for electricity and water desalination. Ma'touq used to be responsible for Libya's nuclear programme in the 1990s. He played a key role in 2003/04 Libyan negotiations with US and UK officials on Tripoli getting rid of WMDs.

The official JANA news agency on March 12 reported: "The agreement [proposed with the US] aims at establishing a nuclear station in Libya to produce electricity, desalting water, and developing the radiochemistry performance at researches centre". JANA said the draft agreement provided for Libyan students to receive training in nuclear technology in the US and for the establishment in Libya of a regional centre for nuclear medicine.

Iraq: In June 1981, Israel bombed Baghdad's Osiraq nuclear reactor in a controversial air strike. Despite the success and reputation of the operation, it only produced a temporary halt to Iraq's nuclear weapons programme. It is believed that, only four months later, the then Iraqi Deputy Minister of Industry, Ja'far Dhiya' Ja'far, convinced the then Sunni/Ba'thist dictator, President Saddam Hussein, that remaining in the NPT, while embarking on a clandestine nuclear weapons programme, would present no serious difficulties.

This was the starting point of Iraq's new nuclear weapons programme named Petrochemical-3, which employed over 20,000 persons. Some 7,000 of these were scientists and engineers employed at an estimated cost of up to $10 billion. The programme included at least two big enrichment operations, foreign technical assistance, and massive foreign acquisitions - much, but not all of which, fell within the domain of legal dual-use items, i.e., components which can be used both for civilian industries and in nuclear production.

Iraq's large petroleum industry made it possible to import many of the dual-use items without arousing too much suspicion. After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and its subsequent defeat in the First Gulf War in early 1991, the UNSC demanded that Iraq unconditionally dismantle its nuclear weapons programme under the supervision of the international community. This was the starting point of a cat-and-mouse game which did not end until the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

In 1992 Iraq presented a document which allegedly proved it had dismantled its missile stockpile. However, the truth was that the missiles were divided into two parts, one which was destroyed and one which was concealed from the UN.

On Aug. 8, 1995 Lt-Gen Hussein Kamel al-Majid, the then former head of Iraq's Military Industrialisation Corp (MIC), which was responsible for development and manufacture of prohibited weapons, defected to Jordan.

Al-Majid, and his brother Saddam Kamel, were both cousins and sons-in-law of Saddam Hussein. Both were assassinated on their return to Iraq in 1996. In the aftermath of their defection, the UN was able to acquire a massive number of documents and material directly linked to proscribed programmes. These papers led to the discovery that the 1991 document ensuring the missile stock had been destroyed was a lie.

The UN inspections continued until 1997 when Iraq announced that many of the sites were now presidential and hence out of reach for the inspections. Between 1998 and 2003 Saddam's Iraq was not subject to UN inspection and the speculation on what happened during those years was one of the major disagreements within the international community before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

There were three major areas of disagreement: first, whether or not Iraq had restarted its nuclear weapons programme after the UN left in 1998. The official US answer was yes, but the IAEA had its doubts after inspections conducted by both the UN agency and the US found no evidence that the programme had been restarted. Second, there was disagreement over whether Iraq had tried to enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons. Here, too, the US said this was the case while the IAEA disagreed. No proof was found that Iraq had tried to enrich uranium. Third, the US claimed that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from an African country and that the UK government knew of the purchase. The IAEA claimed that the documents proving the purchase were forgeries. The US later acknowledged the uranium claim was unfounded. Iraq has signed the NPT.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict & Fatah-Hamas Strife: Conflicting ideologies and internal divisions came to the fore on June 5 as Israelis and Palestinians marked the 40th anniversary of the start of the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war. There was also the ongoing strife between Fatah and Hamas, the main Palestinian factions which are bitter rivals. Hamas, an offshoot of Gaza's Muslim Brotherhood (MB), now depends much on backing from the Shi'ite theocracy of Iran - despite the fact of its being a staunchly Sunni organisation.

Israeli peace activists protested against four decades of occupation in Hebron, a tense and conservative Palestinian city with a biblical past, and tried to drown out a small counter-demonstration of local Jewish settlers. In Gaza, fighting between Hamas and Fatah, flared up again, two weeks after the two sides declared a ceasefire. Several fighters were reported wounded in what news reports described as a gun battle lasting up to three hours near the Karni commercial crossing on the Gaza-Israel border.

The crossing is controlled by the Presidential Guard, which is loyal to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, and is the only entry and exit point for cargo in and out of the Gaza Strip.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas delivered a televised speech on the occasion of the anniversary of the war, which ended in a stunning military victory for Israel and a sobering defeat for the Arab armies. He said that ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state would erase the memory of the defeat. But he warned that the Palestinians were "on the verge of civil war", and that the internecine fighting "is equal to the danger of occupation, or even more".

In six days of war in June 1967, Israel conquered the West Bank and the eastern half of Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Israel also occupied Egypt's entire Sinai Peninsula. Israel withdraw from Sinai in return for peace with Egypt signed in 1979.

Israel unilaterally withdrew its troops from Gaza and removed all the Jewish settlements there in the summer of 2005. Israel, citing security reasons, has since largely isolated Gaza, strictly controlling the traffic of people and goods between Gaza, Israel and the West Bank, a policy which Palestinians say has led to further impoverishment.

Abbas's remarks reflected a sense of growing despair in the Palestinian territories, and particularly in the Gaza Strip, after two weeks of clashes left about 50 dead.

Hamas and Fatah formed a Palestinian unity government in mid-March, based on a peace agreement brokered by Saudi Arabia in February, in large part to avoid civil war. But their security forces and military wings remain in a bitter power struggle.

Even Radicals Say Israeli Occupation Is Positive: Early in June, the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) published translated excerpts from articles by Palestinian columnists who broke a political taboo by pointing out a positive aspect of Israeli occupation. One journalist quoted by MEMRI, Majed Azzam, wrote in the Hamas-affiliated al-Risala weekly in Gaza that Palestinians "should have the courage to acknowledge the truth", that the only thing which "prevents the chaos and turmoil in Gaza from spreading to the West Bank is the presence of the Israeli occupation".

Another Palestinian writer, Bassem al-Nabris, a poet from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, wrote in the Arabic electronic newspaper Elaph that if there was a referendum in the Gaza Strip on the question of whether people would like the Israeli occupation to return, "half the population would vote yes", adding: "But in practice, I believe that the number of those in favour is at least 70%, if not more".

In an illustration of Gaza's near-isolation, the Israeli military on June 5 announced that it was upholding its ban preventing students from Gaza from studying in Israel. The announcement was made in the Supreme Court in Jerusalem in response to a petition by an Israeli non-profit organisation, the Legal Centre for the Freedom of Movement. The group had petitioned the court on behalf of Wisam Madhoon, a 28-year-old Gaza resident, who has not been able to reach his admissions interview for a doctoral programme in environmental studies at Tel Aviv University, even though the Israeli army does not claim that his entrance into Israel constitutes any threat.

Fatah and the Israeli centre and left are in favour of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by means of a negotiated two-state solution. The Israeli nationalist right opposes giving up territory won in 1967, while Hamas refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist.

More than 250,000 Jews now live in West Bank settlements considered illegal by the Palestinians and the international community. At least 180,000 live in Jewish neighbourhoods built after 1967 in the eastern half of Jerusalem.
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