Nimrod Barkan states the case Print

Late July 2009 expert-level discussions took place between the heads of institutions in Israel and China as part of an ongoing dialogue on research.

The talks centred on the Middle East generally and particularly on the rise of Iran and its influence, and the future of the international order in view of the economic crisis and the rise of China as an economic power.

Asia connection


“This is my first visit to Beijing. My field of expertise is the US and Arab worlds,” says Nimrod Barkan, Director, Policy Research Center, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem as he passed through Hong Kong July 17, 2009. Mr. Barkan provided Jewish Times Asia with insights and opinions on political policies.

“We are becoming more and more aware of the significance of Asia, both politically and economically. We have a strategic dialogue with Japan which takes place every six or seven months. A political dialogue with India taking place every year - once in India and once in Israel; and Vietnam has opened an embassy in Israel and we now have dialogue with Vietnam.

“Beyond this there is also the growing economic dimension [to Asia], the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka might be helpful and there other aspects. Unfortunately, we do not have good relations with Indonesia and Malaysia due to their basic orientation, but we are working on that.

“We need to develop the political relationships besides the economic relationship in order to augment the thriving economic relationship.

“As I am travelling so far to Beijing it was considered useful to start the visit in Hong Kong with its unique status in relation to trade with China and heritage.”

The main issues

“There are several issues of interest to us. The core subjects - the potential danger to Israel from Syria and Lebanon - not so much from the Lebanese society but from Iran's arming for Hezbollah. Also, the significance of the split between those in the Palestinian society who want to make peace and those that want to make war, once again, with the encouragement of Iran, and Hamas.

We are very interested in the geo-political situation of the region after the Americans leave Iraq in a year or two from now. More than anything else we would like to explore with the Chinese, the nature of the threat Iran poses to the Middle East and international structures in general, in view of Iran's attempt to change the international order and to posses nuclear weapons.”

Mr Barkan said that on this latter issue there were some slight differences of opinion between Israel and China and he wanted to explore the core of those differences and try to hone understanding so maybe the two parties could find mutual agreement rather than difference, on the Iran issues specifically.

These were the main questions plus the future of the international order in view of the economic crises and the economic rise of China.

Question of credibility

Asked if the Israel government does not give any credibility to the Iranian's statement that they are not developing nuclear weapons Mr Barkan replied: “From a narrow perspective this might be true, as we sit here right now, but the building of a nuclear weapon is a long process that necessitates two stages: first the achievement of the military capability and military planning, and we think that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has posed some very substantive questions to the Iranians about their military plans to which the Iranians have not replied at all. So, we are suspiciousas is the international community.

“There was in Iran a very developed military plan that was attested to by national intelligence estimates of the USA last year. They claimed that when the programme was stopped, in 2003, while we don't dispute this necessarily the issue is, at what stage was this stopped? In our opinion, if it was stopped it was stopped at a stage where it was completed, and they have a military programme.

“The second aspect of the construction of a nuclear weapon is the obtaining of fissionable materials. Iran has opted for the - at least officially - uranium channel, the enrichment of uranium. Iran is energetically engaged in the enrichment of uranium for the time being at the civilian level, which is permissible by the IAEA conditions however there is no logic, no energy logic, for Iran's enrichment of uranium unlike other countries that have energy needs that justifies the trading of such huge quantities uranium for power production.

“The only power plant that will be in operation in Iran, Bushehr, will be fuelled by Russian uranium, they don't need this enriched uranium for Bushehr.

This raises suspicions that the only logic for what they are doing is preparing the groundwork for further enrichment to bring it to the military level.

Not only that, concurrently with the enrichment of uranium Iran is building a research reactor, in Iraq, a heavy water research reactor, which is supposed to be a 50 megawatts research reactor and this is the classic weapons creating plutonium channel.

“There is no real logic behind that beyond the military one. Consequently we think all the evidence including evidence obtained by the IAEA is that the logic of the Iranian programme is military. It is to prepare the groundwork for a bomb.

“We estimate that Iran will enter the threshold stage category in a month or two from now, when it will have obtained sufficient low-enriched uranium to produce a bomb in less that a year and then they will need to enrich to a high level. There are no longer any technological problems facing Iran, it is only a political decision.

“The short summary of this long answer is, the logic of Iran's nuclear programme is only military, there is no civilian logic to it and we believe that while they are not yet combining the fissionable materials under a military programme they are laying the groundwork for doing so. That's why we think we can treat them as a country that is preparing a bomb.”

What needs to be done

A further question was asked as to what Iran can do to allay such fears and to prove that they are not building a bomb?

“Return to full transparency with the IAEA, respond truthfully to those questions that were posed to them by the IAEA, sign - among other things - documents that allow serious and unimpeded control by the EIA over their institutions, and sign additional protocols, mainly on the agreement that allows more intrusive inspections, in order to make sure they are not building a bomb. This particular protocol was created after Iraq was caught cheating by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), this is an agreement that is full of holes as it only allows inspection at pre-arranged sites and scheduled dates. It does not allow challenge visits, nor other steps that are essential to make sure a country is not cheating. Iran should sign the additional protocols and open itself up to inspections.”

The Qur'an and the bomb

Jewish Times Asia pointed out that some authorities have clearly stated that the Qur'an does not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons and that this means something substantial as it is an Islamic republic.

“Until the elections in Iran we had a stronger belief in the veracity of that statement but when we saw how Iran treated their own institutions and its own decisions, after the elections when they simply carried out a coup d'état and threw out the real results and perceived interests, we could not put a lot of weight on the statements to the fact that there is a Qur'anic law that forbids the bomb.

“We took this very seriously just as we took seriously the fact Iran condemned North Korea's nuclear experiments, but now we have lost all trust in them when we saw how they behaved in recent elections and internal disputes,” ended Mr Barkan.

(Issue September 2009)