An Israeli and an Iranian on the way forward


By Aviv Melamud and Ariane Tabatabai  – This winter marks the 35th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The 1979 Revolution, toppling Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last king of Iran, established the Islamic Republic. Since, Iran and Israel, two former collaborators, have had a complex and mostly conflictual relationship.  Indeed, much of the political and security narratives of Tehran and Jerusalem are shaped around each other. The rhetoric has covered the whole pallet of colors, from the blackwolfto the whitesheep,” with blue jeans,” “yellow cake,” andredlinesin between. Each side has legitimate fears and concerns, which cast a shadow over all the commonalities and interests the two countries and nations share. For their part, Israelis feel threatened by the Islamic Republic’s anti-Israeli discourse, terrorist activities against Jewish communities around the world and support for anti-Israeli terrorist groups, as well as its controversial nuclear program. On the other side of the equation, the Israeli government beating the drum and encouraging more sanctions, along with allegations regarding its role in the assassination of Iran’s nuclear scientists and its involvement in Stuxnet, have led Iranians to increasingly fear and distrust Israel. Despite these understandable concerns on either side, and especially with the recent deal reached between the P5+1 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) and Tehran regarding Iran’s nuclear in Geneva, it is high time for a paradigm shift in the relations between these two Middle Eastern countries. 





A new horizon: the interim deal


Iran and Israel are waking up to a new regional and international climate. The recently-agreed interim nuclear deal on Iran’s nuclear program is receiving support from across the board as a “good deal.” Yet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to pout as his government denounces the deal reached. While criticism on the deal is to be expected, and concerns over Israeli interests and how the deal will serve to protect them is due, Netanyahu’s continued offensive – against Iran, against the deal, and hence its negotiators – might not be leaving Israel in a position where its concerns are actually taken into account. From an Iranian perspective, the deal entails much needed progress toward the settlement of the nuclear dossier, which has carried many political, strategic, and economic consequences for both population and its leadership.


In the context of this new reality, it would be in the best interest of both Israel and Iran to work, even if informally, towards easing some of the tensions between them. For Iran, the deal, delivered on President Hassan Rouhani’s 100th day in office, symbolizes the climax of a new path, which began with his election. Undertaking additional substantial steps towards regional security and easing of tensions vis-à-vis Israel will only bolster its new internationally-accepted course and will therefore strengthen the international community’s trust in a country isolated and demonized for eight years. For Israel, particularly if it is concerned with Iranian nuclear intentions and its compliance with the negotiated deal, not seeming as the spoiler to this deal would be meaningful in the long run. Beyond the bilateral relationship, reducing the tensions between this duo of key regional actors could also be conducive to greater stability in the Middle East.


In fact, it is important to remember that as dire as relations between the two countries are, this is to a large extent a relatively recent development. It is often forgotten that Iran and Israel did not only cooperate before the Islamic Revolution, but that the post-Revolutionary era has also seen cooperation between the two countries, albeit covert. During Iran’s darkest moment in the past four decades, Israel was one of the only countries – not only in the region, but also on the international level as well – that came to its rescue: During the Iran-Iraq War, Israel provided Iran with much-needed modern weaponry. Iran and Israel share certain interests and security concerns, and despite the formal rivalry, have succeeded in cooperating to advance those shared interests.


Although the difficulties in the Iran-Israel relationship are clear and the criticism, from either side against the other, has for the most part not developed out of completely thin air, rapprochement between these two states should not be discarded as an irrelevant possibility. We are not expecting our two countries to engage in bilateral and direct relations or to walk hand in hand into the sunset any time soon, as we ourselves have done, and many others from across the chasm. However, some steps can be taken, even in the troubled time we are currently in, to alleviate the situation and move toward better relations. In the following, we propose some such steps, in the hope that they will inspire others to think constructively about the issue and to develop further ideas, which could lead toward substantial and sustained progress.


Understanding that direct and formal cooperation is still some ways away, our goal is to present realistic yet constructive steps, and hence such that can be undertaken independently, without bombastic announcements of rapprochement that are still unlikely. The unilateral measures discussed below could be implemented independently by Iran and Israel, thus contributing to threat reduction, enhancing of security, and ultimately a bilateral re-building of trust.


The war of words: understanding the discourse


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency was marked by controversies surrounding his belligerent rhetoric against Israel, which even in the difficult climate between the two countries was extremely vehement. In fact, for much of the 1990s and early 2000s (until Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005), Iranian moderates and reformists alike attempted to ease the tension between Iran and Israel, and former presidents Aliakbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami championed this trend.


During his time in office, Ahmadinejad famously denied the Holocaust and stated that Israel had no place in the Middle East and that a regional “storm” would “uproot” the Jewish state. Yet, even under Ahmadinejad, the discourse was not as one-dimensional as many depicted. Indeed, one of his most controversial and proliferated statements was actually a mistranslation of a phrase taken out of context. The former president never said that “Israel should be wiped off the map,” nor that Iran should wipe it off the map. Even former Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, Dan Meridor, recognized this fact. Instead, Ahmadinejad had said that Israel, “like the Soviet Union, will fall apart when its people no longer want it [to exist].” During Ahmadinejad’s term in office, his close friend and Chief of Staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, had stated that the Iranian people were ‘friends of all people in the world — even Israelis’.


Despite these mistranslations and common misperceptions, it is clear that this rhetoric by Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders, accompanied by their support to Hamas and Hezbollah, has been viewed by the Israeli leadership and people as belligerent and pursuing an active anti-Israeli policy.  In this context, the suspected military dimension of the Iranian nuclear program is understandably perceived as an existential threat to the State of Israel. This perception has only reinforced existing views in Israel that its territorial integrity and sovereignty are threatened by other states in the region, many of which it does not have relations with and which perceive it as illegitimate.


Nevertheless, since his inauguration, Rouhani has attempted to distance himself, his government, and the country from his predecessor’s rhetoric. To do so, Rouhani has taken several concrete steps. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Rouhani declared that “any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crimes committed by the Nazis, whether against Jews or non-Jews, is completely condemned in our view. Likewise, today, any crime against any nation, religion, ethnicity, or belief, we condemn that crime and genocide. Therefore, the crimes of the Nazis are condemned.” Likewise, Iran’s Foreign Minister and Chief Nuclear Negotiator, Javad Zarif, dismissed the idea of the Holocaust being a myth and called it a “heinous crime” and a “genocide,” which should not be repeated. Furthermore, the President canceled the annual anti-Zionist conference, which was established under Ahmadinejad.


Some have dismissed Rouhani’s acknowledgment and condemnation of the Holocaust, by saying that it did not go far enough in its denunciation of the crimes. Others have chosen to ignore the steps he has taken in toning down the anti-Israeli rhetoric. However, these criticisms fall short of recognizing the intricacy of Rouhani’s enterprise, as he has many factions to appease within Iran, while he attempts to remain constructive. Therefore, the level of expectation must be adjusted to the complex reality and the “all or nothing” approach needs to be abandoned in order to recognize the constructive process underway. The official Israeli discourse has accused Rouhani’s statement as merely cheap talk with no action to back it, thus completely failing to recognize some concrete actions that could be considered as backing the talk, like a nuclear deal.


Iran and its nuclear program have been the central project of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since he took office in 2009. Netanyahu has been leading a very offensive rhetorical campaign against Iran’s nuclear program for several years, which at times, has seemed on the verge of slipping into the realm of action, igniting concerns of an eminent war in both Israel and Iran. Keeping in line with the historical period, Netanyahu’s rhetoric of demonizing Iran has also reverted to the same time for which Ahmadinejad gained his infamy: Netanyahu has stated that now “is 1938 and Iran is Germany,” and has compared Iran’s nuclear installations to the Holocaust concentration camps.


Even before the latest elections in Iran, the Prime Minister estimated that the elections would not make a difference in its strive for a nuclear weapon. With the onset of Rouhani’s so-called “charm attack,” the significant change in tone apparently left no impression on Netanyahu. Despite a report by the Israeli intelligence, which identified significant and strategic changes in the Iranian political scene (while still seeking nuclear threshold status), as well as the quarterly Iran safeguards report by the International Atomic Energy Agency in November 2013, stating that Iran has slowed its nuclear program since Rouhani’s presidency, Netanyahu continues his offensive. To stress that continuous view of Iran, Netanyahu stated formally in his United Nations General Assembly address that Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as opposed to Ahmadinejad, who was a wolf in wolf’s clothing.


Understandably, Israeli reading of both reports which imply a shift in the Iranian position is hesitant to recognize a meaningful transformation regarding what it already considered the greatest threat to Israel – Iran’s strive for nuclear weapons. Yet while the international community has turned to a thorough diplomatic engagement with a view towards reaching agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, Netanyahu’s vocal offensive has been perceived as hysterical and counterproductive.


While Israel diplomatic offensive is aimed at influencing those who sit in the White House, Netanyahu’s rhetoric is loudly heard in Tehran and was recently reciprocated with an attack by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei intensifying the tension between the countries even further, and so the cycle continues. Yet, the recently negotiated deal on the Iranian nuclear program should be incentive enough for both sides to work towards reducing tensions: Iran, to prove its commitment to the deal and to a changed approach to foreign policy; and Israel, to give the well-received deal a chance, without being perceived as the spoiler. 


Moving forward in the bilateral relationship – unilaterally 


The Iran-Israel nexus has been a key plank in discussions surrounding international affairs in the past decades. Yet, much of the debate has been centered on finger-pointing and the challenges, while very little attention has been paid to identifying opportunities for constructive and substantial progress toward alleviating some of the tension between the two countries. We believe that a number of steps could be realistically undertaken to make things better for both sides.


a. Managing expectations


The first step each state needs to take is simply to recognize the efforts and delicate shifts towards each other. This is also a pre-requisite to the rest of the measures proposed below. It is vital for both states to be open to recognizing each other’s efforts. This does not have to be done officially, but each state needs to provide some feedback to the other that they are listening and taking note of the other’s undertakings. This can be achieved by a simple gesture, such toning down the rhetoric on some level. Hence, steps forward by one side should not be dismissed as “smile attacks”, as they have been.


For instance, the Iranian people have shown that they are in favor of distancing themselves from Ahmadinejad and his rhetoric. The 2009 post-electoral events, known as the Green Movement, as well as the sustained demand for change, leading to the recent election of a moderate President are a clear sign of the general discontent with the policies and rhetoric of Ahmadinejad.  This is not only the case on a societal level but has increasingly manifested itself on the official level as well, with across the board reforms undertaken by Rouhani and his team.


This goal of recognizing shifts towards each other cannot be attained if the two states are interested in an “all or nothing” solution. For instance, Israel cannot fail to consider all efforts made by Iran short of official recognition or the suspension of its nuclear program as futile. Indeed, while an Iranian recognition of Israeli statehood, sovereignty, and right to territorial integrity would be optimal; it is simply not feasible for the foreseeable future. Yet, some Israelis undermine the possibility of any cooperation as long as Tehran does not fully recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. This is while Iran did not officially recognize Israel prior to the Islamic Revolution either, abstaining to vote in 1947 when the question was raised at the United Nations General Assembly, while later cooperating with Israel on various levels. Likewise, some in Tehran reject any rapprochement and dialogue with Israel and refuse to engage with it on any level. This faction will not accept any solution to the Israel-Palestine issue short of Israelis packing their bags and going back to “where they come from” (wherever that may be…).


b. Iran and the Palestinian question: a case of the bowl being hotter than the soup*


This leads us to the second step, a step, which can be taken by Iran independent of all other developments in the region. Israel and Israelis are here to stay and Tehran should recognize this and get used to the idea. Better yet, the Iranian leadership should understand that it cannot eternally go on ignoring Israel, or worst, fighting it, whether directly or indirectly. Doing so does not only isolate it internationally, and create and intensify tensions between Tehran and the West, but it also hampers the regional quest for stability and security. In turn, the stability and security of the Middle East affects all states equally, and given their status, Iran and Israel have an enormous impact on it. Therefore, Tehran should officially recognize and pledge support for the two-state solution, if it is the will of the Palestinian people and as per direct negotiations between the relevant parties, Israel and Palestine. Its official endorsement of the two state solution would in effect convey Iran’s understanding that the State of Israel is an inherent part of the region, de-facto recognize its existence. So far, a number of officials have expressed Iranian support for such a development but others have repelled it. This should be articulated as Iran’s official policy, perhaps even through officially and formally supporting the Arab Peace Initiative. This would not only inspire Israel to tone down its rhetoric toward Iran, it would also help Tehran’s relations with the West. Moreover, such a move would delegitimize to some extent the arguments used by Israeli hardliners, which would promote a military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities due to the “existential threat” represented by the country’s policies.


c. The interim nuclear deal: a case of the mourner among the celebrators**


Much of the Israeli rhetoric around the Iranian nuclear issue has revolved around redlines, military strikes against nuclear facilities in Iran, encouragement for the implementation of further sanctions, and the drawing of parallels between Iran and Nazi Germany. Recently, this discourse has been in spite of the progress made by the P5+1 and Tehran in Geneva in November 2013 on the Iranian nuclear dossier and U.S.-Iranian rapprochement. The continued offensive rhetoric by Israeli officials only serves to empower the hardliners in Iran and weaken not only the reformists but also the moderates, including Rouhani. Furthermore, creating an environment, where Iranian constantly fear an Israeli attack against their soil, especially against nuclear facilities, discourages them from demanding change domestically and increases the likelihood of a closed climate.


This is yet another conundrum in the relationship between the two states, where Israeli hardliners, to some extent, credit the change in the Iranian position to be the direct result of the Israeli insistence on dealing seriously with Iran’s nuclear program. In other words, they attribute the Iranian willingness to even “come to the table” to the “crippling sanctions” accompanied by credible military threat and demand for intensified sanctions. This view, however, ignores other important factors, which have shaped Iran’s new foreign and nuclear policy, including domestic politics. It is clear that there is a general understanding in at least certain circles in Israel that without Netanyahu’s “personal” mission to show the world just how dangerous Iran is, the situation would have been much worse by now.


Either way, Israeli concerns of the nuclear deal with Iran are legitimate, considering what many perceive as Iran’s record of concealment regarding its nuclear program, as well as its support of terrorist attacks and belligerent rhetoric in the past and failure to formally and categorically refute certain statements. Indeed, change, by definition, can only be gradual, but the judgment must be passed on a trend of cumulative actions, and the rhetoric coming from Israel does not allow for this. The Israeli position as continuously proclaimed by Netanyahu and incessantly aggressive towards Iran, unwilling to even recognize the meaningful changes in Iran since Rouhani’s inauguration, appears to be counter-productive to the efforts of the international community to ensure the civilian nature of the Iranian nuclear program.


While Israeli concerns regarding the agreement are understandable, its complete rejection is isolating Israel even further, as it walks around as the nearly-sole mourner among the celebrators. Despite concerns, it is important to tone down the rhetoric and give the agreement, as well as the new Iranian government, the time and space they need to prove the viability of the diplomatic solution. Words and discourse have been a central part of the rivalry between Iran and Israel in the past decades. As they served in the past to exacerbate the conflict, so could they now be used to alleviate it. Even simpler than changing the discourse, an initial constructive step would be to simply refrain from certain activities, mostly aggressive statements.


d. Tests and trust


Iran and Israel are both signatories to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), but neither has ratified the Treaty. Their ratification would be very meaningful as both states would commit not to test nuclear weapons. Globally, both countries play a central role in the entry into force process of the CTBT, as they are part of the group of states whose ratification is required for the treaty to enter into force.


An Iranian ratification of the CTBT is almost self-demanding. The country signed the Treaty in 1996 and has already certified one of the five monitoring stations planned for its territory, although it has yet to connect it to the CTBT’s International Data Center, the forefront component of the Treaty’s verification regime . As first steps showing greater commitment to the CTBT, Iran could begin to transmit data from its certified monitoring station by connecting it to the International Data Center, and continue with the installation and certification of the further stations to be established in its territory. CTBT ratification would certainly be considered a substantial step towards greater nuclear self-restraint and would undoubtedly boost Iran’s credentials in the handling of its nuclear dossier. This would also provide further evidence to Tehran’s claims that its nuclear program is merely peaceful in nature.


Israel’s ratification of the CTBT, which it also signed in 1996, would give it a substantial legitimacy boost and show its commitment to the non-proliferation regime. With Israel specifically, the same can be stated regarding Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) ratification: Israel signed the CWC as early as 1993, but has yet to ratify it. The ratification of this central disarmament treaty would go a long way in terms of proving the country’s seriousness regarding the non-proliferation regime in general, and a meaningful regional arms control process in particular. This is especially the case since the developments on the Syrian chemical weapons front, have rid Israel of its greatest and most consistent concern regarding these weapons. Iran, incidentally, ratified the CWC back in 1997.


Israel’s central concern with both the CTBT and the CWC is the treaties’ verification regimes. Israel fears that these could be misused by Arab states and Iran to force a wrongful challenge inspection or on-site inspection in Israel. This concern, as well as others regarding these treaties, would have to be addressed to enable Israel to ratify.


Bilaterally, ratification of these arms control mechanisms by Iran and Israel would not likely be publicly and formally considered or intended as confidence building measures vis-à-vis each other. However, this would certainly greatly contribute to a calmer WMD-climate in the region.


In a greater regional context, if both states are indeed interested in the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, these particular steps would be significant to that process. A WMD-free zone process, backed by a regional security dialogue, would be meaningful for both states’ security and therefore well-being. As the only two non-Arab states in the region, Iran and Israel share several procedural considerations regarding such a regional process. As such, both countries, for instance, share an interest in promoting a consensus-based decision-making processes in such environments. While, as mentioned, it is not likely that this alone would bring them to formally cooperate, recognizing their shared perspectives and interests could contribute to an atmosphere of greater civility in the relations between these two central actors.   


Conclusion:  the ways forward


Iran and Israel distinguish themselves from the rest of the Middle East due to a combination of factors. They are both non-Arab, non-Sunni, states, which have found themselves in conflict with neighboring countries over the years. They are often isolated from the rest of the region and are outnumbered by the Arab majority in the context of multilateral talks and negotiations on regional security. For both states, their unique characteristics make this isolation, whether political or organizational, a potential threat to their security, as they fear that their concerns would not be aptly addressed.


Despite these shared characteristics and what could be recognized as common goals, relations between Israel and Iran would not soon lend themselves to cooperation, so much is clear. However, each can take unilateral steps to reduce tension, promote national interests, build confidence and enhance regional security. No such step would likely be identified formally as meaning to serve as reassurance to the other party. Yet, managing expectations will allow the symbolic and concrete uses of such measures not to be negligible.


The successful social campaign, which began with a viral categorical statement by several Israelis speaking clearly against the possibility of attacking Iran, has developed into a parade of reciprocal symbolic gestures between the two peoples. While relatively small in scale, this experiment seems to show the reluctance of the two peoples to be forced into rivalry. Indeed, the official relationship is tainted to say the least, yet it seems illogical to ignore the societal level and the possibilities therein for a brighter future. 


But perhaps the most important step that must be taken by both the leaderships and nations of Iran and Israel is to get to know one another and refrain from making baseless assumptions. So, here are some myth busters to start this enterprise: Yes, Iranians do wear jeans. No, most Iranians do not want to see Israel wiped off the map. No, Iranians do not believe that the Holocaust is a myth. Yes, Israelis, despite being told otherwise, recognize that Iranians are not all out to get them. No, most Israelis do not actually want to get into war with Iran.



Aviv Melamud is an Israeli research associate at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF), a Heinrich Böll Foundation Fellow, and a PhD student at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany.


Ariane Tabatabai is an Iranian Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, a PhD candidate in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, and a non-resident Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.


The authors are members of the Middle East Next Generation of Arms Control Specialists Network, created by Dr. Chen Kane at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. 

* “The bowl is hotter than the soup” is a Persian idiom, which describes a situation in which a certain party is more eager about another party’s interests than the stakeholder themselves.
** “Walking around as the mourner among the celebrators” is a Hebrew idiom, which refers to the only person who is not taking part in a celebration joined by all (e.g. a wedding).  

This article originally appeared in the National Interest on December 23, 2013.




Iran Plays Games with the Geneva Deal


By Olli Heinonen and Orde Kittrie – Nearly a month since the six-month Joint Plan of Action with Iran was announced in Geneva on November 24, the deal has yet to go into effect.  The two sides have not even agreed on a start date for implementing the deal.    Meanwhile, Iran says it is continuing to advance its nuclear program.


Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Reza Najafi, says that Iran will not begin implementing its Joint Plan of Action commitments, including its pledge to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, until the still-unspecified start date.


In the past, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has boasted repeatedly of how he used a 2003 set of nuclear negotiations with the West, for which he was Iran’s lead negotiator, to buy time to advance Iran’s program.   History appears to be repeating itself.  Rather than implementing the deal in good faith, Iran is playing games with it, manipulating the Joint Plan of Action to alter to Tehran’s advantage both the circumstances on the ground and the terms of the deal itself.























I.  Increasing Iran’s Uranium Stockpile


The start date delay is particularly worrisome because the Joint Plan of Action text appears to commit Iran to freezing its program at its magnitude not on November 24, but rather on that still-unspecified date of implementation.  This includes Iran’s commitments not to produce additional uranium enriched above 5 percent; not to “make any further advances of its activities at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, Fordow, or the Arak reactor;” and to convert to oxide any additional uranium enriched up to 5 percent.


As of November 24, the day the Joint Plan of Action was announced, Iran was estimated to be less than 6 months away from breakout capability, the point at which it could dash to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb so quickly that the International Atomic Energy Agency or a Western intelligence service would be unable to detect the dash until it is over.


European Union officials say that they hope negotiations over implementation of the Joint Plan of Action will be concluded in time for the deal to go into effect in late January. A start date of late January will apparently leave Iran’s uranium and plutonium production programs significantly closer to breakout capacity than if the Joint Plan of Action had been implemented on November 24. 


At the rates at which Iran was enriching in September and October 2013 (the most recent months covered by the IAEA’s quarterly public reports), Tehran will, by December 24, have created at least an additional 230 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 5 percent and an additional 15 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent.  By January 24, Iran will have created at least an aggregate additional 460 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 5 percent and an aggregate additional 30 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent.  In addition, Iran is very likely continuing producing more centrifuges, and its uranium mines and milling facilities are almost certainly continuing to produce and process uranium ore.    Iran may also be continuing to create fuel for the Arak reactor. 


And what if the Joint Plan is never implemented?  Then Iran will apparently have succeeded in significantly advancing its uranium and plutonium production programs while negotiating with the P-5 plus 1, and won’t have to roll any of it back. 


Continued Iranian advancement of its uranium and plutonium programs is particularly striking because Iran has, since 2006, been legally obligated by various UN Security Council resolutions to “without further delay suspend . . . all enrichment-related” activities and “all heavy-water related projects,” including construction of the Arak reactor.


 II.  Advancing Iran’s Nuclear Warhead and Delivery System Research and Development


Any “comprehensive deal” curbs on Iran’s nuclear program are highly unlikely to go into effect before the Joint Plan of Action concludes its six month duration.  A delayed start date for the Joint Plan of Action thus gives Iran more time to advance key parts of its nuclear weapons program that are not significantly addressed by the Joint Plan of Action, but rather would only be curbed as part of a later, “comprehensive deal.”  This includes Iran’s nuclear warhead and ballistic missile research and development activities.  


For example, the Joint Plan of Action does almost nothing to provide the IAEA with access and cooperation regarding Iran’s warhead-related activities.  The same is true of the November 11 Joint Statement on a Framework for Cooperation Between the IAEA and Iran.   Neither the Joint Plan of Action nor the Framework for Cooperation contains either an explicit requirement that Iran come clean about its past nuclear warhead work or a provision for short-notice “snap” inspections to ensure that such research is not ongoing.  


Such transparency is crucial because nuclear warhead research, or even the manufacturing of nuclear warhead components, can be conducted in small, secret facilities.  That’s why several UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 have legally obligated Iran to provide “access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the IAEA” in order to resolve IAEA concerns about Iran’s research into nuclear warhead research and development.  


A significant delay in “comprehensive deal” curbs on Iran’s warhead-related activities is worrisome because IAEA reports have included extensive information about warhead-related research and development by Iran.  In its May 2011 report, the IAEA described documentary evidence of Iranian “studies involving the removal of the conventional high explosive payload from the warhead of the Shahab-3 missile and replacing it with a spherical nuclear payload.”  The November 2011 IAEA report annex provided a more detailed description of information it determined “indicates that Iran has carried out . . . activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” and noted “indications that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device . . . may still be ongoing.”  


The Joint Plan of Action also includes no Iranian commitment to refrain from ballistic missile activity.  Iran is openly continuing such activity, despite a 2010 UN Security Council resolution legally obligating Iran to “not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” 


Because any “comprehensive deal” curbs on Iran’s nuclear warhead and ballistic missile activities are highly unlikely to go into effect before the Joint Plan of Action concludes its six month duration, a late January start date almost certainly means that Iran will have until at least July 2014 to continue advancing its nuclear warhead and delivery system research and development.


In addition, in light of Iranian activities such as its efforts to demolish and pave over the weaponization research site at Parchin, the passage of additional time is likely to make it more difficult for the IAEA to verify past Iranian nuclear warhead and delivery system research and development.


III.  Mischaracterizing U.S. Commitments


At the same time Iran is declaring itself free of its actual Joint Plan of Action commitments until the start date is set and occurs, Iran is insisting that the U.S. must not take sanctions-related steps that clearly fall outside the U.S. commitments under the Joint Plan of Action, even if it were in effect.


For example, the Joint Plan of Action states that the U.S. “will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.”   The Iranian Foreign Minister threatened that “the deal is dead” if there was movement on the Senate bill, discussed last week, that would not have imposed new sanctions but merely specified what sanctions would be imposed on Iran if the deal collapses.   Then, Iran’s diplomats stormed out of the negotiations in protest of the December 12 action, by the U.S. Treasury and State Departments, to designate additional companies and individuals for evading existing international sanctions against Iran.  Neither the Senate bill nor the designations would have violated the Joint Plan of Action, even if it were in effect, which it is not.


Ironically, the U.S. designations are in implementation of various Security Council resolutions which require UN member states to “take the necessary measures to prevent the provision to Iran” of assistance, services, or financial resources related to its illicit nuclear program.  Thus, Iran was protesting Washington’s compliance with the U.S.’s international legal obligations while Iran continues to flagrantly violate its own international legal obligations, imposed by the Security Council, to suspend all enrichment-related and heavy water related activities.


This kind of gall is less surprising in light of one particularly remarkable flaw in the Joint Plan of Action.   Article 25 of the UN Charter specifies that “The Members of the United

Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.”   Since Iran is a member of the United Nations, it is explicitly required to abide by Security Council resolutions, including those which required it to suspend its enrichment-related and Arak construction activities, not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and “provide such access and cooperation as the IAEA requests” to resolve IAEA concerns about Iran’s nuclear warhead research and development.  


Yet the Joint Plan of Action nowhere recognizes the Security Council’s authority to legally bind Iran.   Iran’s steps to comply partially with its Security Council obligations to suspend enrichment and work at Arak are labeled “voluntary measures” in the Joint Plan of Action.   Iran will use this to bolster its patently false argument that the Security Council has no legitimate legal authority to restrict Iran’s nuclear program.  Since Iran is quite clearly wrong on this point, it is unclear why the P-5 plus 1 were willing to agree to undercut the Council’s authority with such a formulation.


IV.  Iran’s Economic Benefits Have Already Commenced


At the same time Iran is violating its legal obligations imposed by the Security Council, and postponing implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Plan of Action, its economy has already begun to reap the benefits of the Joint Plan of Action.

For example, the mere prospect of sanctions relief has already increased Iran’s oil exports by ten percent, lifted the market value of Iran’s petrochemical sector by some 40 percent, raised the value of the Tehran stock exchange by some 9 percent, and boosted Iran’s currency.


It remains unclear when the security of the U.S. and its allies will begin to gain from the Joint Plan of Action, and how much less their security will benefit than if the deal had gone into effect the day it was announced.


If the negotiations with Iran are to succeed in achieving U.S. national security objectives, both the first stage implementation agreement and any comprehensive final agreement must be legally binding, enter into force on a clearly specified date, reaffirm the authority of the UN Security Council, and contain far fewer gaps and ambiguities.  In addition, both the Administration and Congress must quickly make clear to Iran that it cannot continue to buy time and space for its nuclear program by delaying and misinterpreting the Joint Plan of Action.


Olli Heinonen is a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Before joining the Belfer Center, he was the Deputy Director General of the IAEA, and head of its Department of Safeguards.


Orde Kittrie is a professor of law at Arizona State University and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.  He previously served as the State Department’s lead attorney for nuclear affairs, in which capacity he participated in negotiating five U.S.-Russia nonproliferation agreements.


Getting to Zero in the Middle East


By Bilal Y. Saab – As Syria dismantles its chemical weapons infrastructure and Iran places verifiable limitations on its nuclear program for the next six months and potentially longer, an opportunity for further progress on the elusive goal of ridding the Middle East of all weapons of mass destruction (WMD) presents itself. While old challenges remain and new ones have materialized, it would be a net loss for all regional parties to fail to take advantage of the momentum currently provided by international nonproliferation diplomacy in the Middle East and launch regional talks on security and arms control that would benefit all.



Such talks were supposed to happen last December under the auspices of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), but they were postponed indefinitely due to Israeli concerns over their timing and mandate as well as regional turmoil and uncertainty caused by the Arab uprisings. The 2010 NPT Review Conference adopted a consensus document with a call to convene a conference in 2012 on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other WMD (the Middle East Resolution of the 1995 NPT Review Conference is the precursor to the 2010 consensus document). The 2012 conference was slated to take place in Finland and Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava was assigned the job of facilitator. Since his appointment, he conducted numerous consultations with states in the Middle East. He noted in his April 2013 report that all states in the region “share the goal of establishing a zone” and many emphasize that the process is a unique opportunity to foster regional security cooperation.


Yet diplomatic niceties aside, the path to “regional zero”—i.e., a Middle East with zero mass destruction weapons—remains long and arduous. The region is in such a state of flux that some countries may not even be presently capable of taking part in regional security talks. Take Syria, for example, whose government is fighting for its life. Or Lebanon next door, which has been without a government since March. Jordan is on the brink too, though somehow has managed to weather the Syrian storm, for now. Post-Mubarak Egypt’s profoundly uncertain transition has paralyzed Cairo on the regional stage. Post-Qaddafi Libya is a stateless and militia-governed territory, while post-Ben Ali Tunisia’s new salafist politics threatens to open the door to Islamist radicalization in the country and tear apart the pluralist fabric of its society.


Things are not much better domestically in the Gulf, either. Countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are nervous about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist affiliates across the region that could challenge monarchical rule. Qatar is likely to turn inward because of its recent transfer of power. The Sunni minority government in Bahrain is on life support due to growing discontent among the country’s Shia, who represent the majority. As for Iraq, a decade after the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, the country is still reeling from massive insecurity and al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorism.


Turkey and Israel have also been hurt politically by regional developments. Turkey’s failed foreign policy of “zero problems with neighbors” has cost Recep Tayyip Erdogan political capital at home. The Turkish premier has switched his political focus to the interior in order to improve his domestic position. As for Israel, having waged all-out diplomatic war against an Iranian nuclear agreement —endorsed by all the major powers of the world—the country finds itself increasingly isolated. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu feels betrayed by the United States and surrounded by more security threats than ever. But he has to answer to rising criticism at home for his detrimental handling of Israel’s relationship with the United States.


So in sum, most governments in the region are preoccupied with internal issues and frantically trying to ensure domestic stability. Under such domestic political circumstances, inter-state negotiations on long-term issues pertaining to WMD proliferation usually take a backseat to more pressing internal matters.


But that shouldn’t necessarily be the case in today’s strategic environment in the Middle East.


As chaotic as things look domestically across the region and as bad as the timing for regional security talks appears, the US overture toward Iran and the gradual US disengagement from the region and pivot to the Asia-Pacific are likely to create an environment in the Middle East where all regional parties could see greater urgency in exercising restraint, improving relations, and ultimately cooperating on security. Signs of a new and more cooperative regional order are already surfacing.  


Consider the immediate effects of the Iran nuclear agreement in the Gulf. A few days after the agreement was signed, something rare happened in Iran-UAE relations: UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed traveled to Tehran and reportedly discussed with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif ways to strengthen bilateral relations and cooperate on security. Zarif immediately returned the visit to Abu Dhabi. Reports indicate that the two sides are now closer to reaching a historic deal on the strategic islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb that allows for the “transfer of the islands to the UAE while Iran retains the seabed rights.”


Bahrain, which for the past few years has accused Tehran of destabilizing it and backing the uprising against its ruling family, invited Zarif to take part in this year’s Manama dialogue, although the Iranian foreign minister could not attend. The small Gulf kingdom, seen by regional powers as a Saudi protectorate, would not have been able to extend such an invitation without the tacit approval of Riyadh. Zarif also recently visited Kuwait and plans to go to Saudi Arabia in the near future, which (if it happens) would be a monumental event in the region. Worried that they would be left behind as a result of potentially improved US-Iran relations, some Arab Gulf states have chosen engagement instead of confrontation with Iran. These Arab Gulf states are not exactly bandwagoning but they are hedging their bets and exercising hard-nosed realism in light of new regional circumstances.


Such changes, of course, should not be taken out of proportion, and the Saudi-Iranian rivalry will not suddenly disappear. These diplomatic overtures will not automatically pave the way for cooperative security in the Middle East. Israel and the Arabs still struggle with their old issues and Arab-Israeli peace still looks distant. But for the first time in the history of the region, Middle Eastern countries are thinking autonomously about ways to improve their security and that of their neighborhood. That offers more good than bad to the United State, and specifically allows it to be more confident about its ability to implement its global reposturing strategy.


On the heels of two US arms control breakthroughs in Iran and Syria, the United States, along with the conveners of the 2012 conference, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Russia and the United Kingdom, should seize the diplomatic momentum and encourage all regional parties, including Iran and Israel, to agree on holding a regional security and arms control conference. But Washington should watch from afar this time, let the regional parties maintain ownership of the process, and lend political support only when necessary.


Regional parties should aim high but start small and pursue an incremental approach based on tangible results. They should also leave no stone unturned, break traditional barriers and dichotomies—such as “conventional vs. unconventional weapons” or “peace first-arms control second”—that have always had faulty logic, and come prepared to discuss their various security concerns in a holistic fashion. It should not just be about Israel’s bomb or Iran’s path toward the bomb; the Middle East has enough problems (including border insecurity, arms smuggling, arms races, territorial disputes, state weakness, radicalization, terrorism, humanitarian disaster, economic collapse, environmental degradation, etc.) that require urgent attention and cooperation, and have an immediate effect on people’s lives.


Some Middle Eastern countries might object to this comprehensive approach and argue that lumping everything together in one basket undermines past nonproliferation agreements and diminishes the critical importance of mass destruction weapons. But if there is one lesson that the region can learn from the Iran agreement, it is that confidence-building and verification come first. Putting the cart before the horse, which has been the practice in regional nonproliferation diplomacy for decades, will only prolong the diplomatic stalemate and further distance the Middle East from getting to zero.


As regional relations pacify, real cooperation takes place, local capacity to verify and implement agreements develops, and trust improves, Middle Eastern states might then have enough confidence to move to the more challenging and intractable issue of disarmament and the ultimate goal of regional zero.


This analysis originally appeared on the Atlantic Council’s MENASource on December 11, 2013.


Was Arafat poisoned by polonium?




By Dr. Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress – President Yasser Arafat, the former president of the Palestinian National Authority, passed away under strange circumstances in 2004 and the cause of his death has never been satisfactorily explained. The doctors who examined him in 2004 were perplexed. They looked for any toxins in his body that could explain the observed symptoms but found none. They also considered the possibility of radiological poisoning such as thallium, a radioactive element, but after measuring his urine and blood found none present. The doctors also did not benefit from knowing that two years later in 2006, a lethal silent killer, an isotope known as polonium-210 (hereafter, Po-210) would be used to kill an Ex-KGB agent Alexandr Litvenenko.



 Po-210 has a half-life of 138 days which means that after 138 days, half of the original amount will have decayed to a stable isotope known as lead-206, after additional 138 days the original amount is one quarter what it was, and so on. When the isotope decays it releases particles which shoot out like bullets and harm surrounding tissue leading to massive cell death. Presumably, if the investigators in 2004 had known about the possibility of Po-210 as a toxin, then they could have most certainly proved or disproved the hypothesis that a lethal dose of Po-210 was the cause of President Arafat’s death without any lingering doubts as there are now. Unfortunately, hindsight is twenty-twenty. However, this does not mean that determining the cause of death is impossible; it is just immensely difficult today, twenty half-lives later. The first rule about radioactivity is that a substance doesn’t just decay into nothing, it decays into another isotope, and always leave some evidence of its presence behind. To make matters worse, while Po-210 when used as a dangerous poison is produced in nuclear research reactors, it is also present in minute quantities in nature. So that if most of the Po-210 from the initial poison has already decayed away it will become difficult to distinguish it from the Po-210 that is present naturally.


In 2011, Al Jazeera launched an investigation into the death of President Arafat with the support of his widow Suha Arafat. Al Jazeera’s investigator, Clayton Swisher, received from Suha Arafat access to Arafat’s French and Palestinian medical files, and a green duffel bag containing Arafat’s final possessions. Swisher reportedly delivered the effects to the Lausanne University Hospital for testing in January 2012. Arafat’s belongings from the French hospital, the clothes he wore, his tooth brush, anything that touched his body were provided to a well-respected forensics team from the Institut de Radiophysique (IRA) in Lausanne, Switzerland for careful analysis.



If President Arafat would have been given a lethal dose of Po-210 in 2004, nine years ago then a portion of the toxin would have been excreted from his body through sweat and urine. Finding Po-210 on the clothes President Arafat wore would be tell-tale sign that he was poisoned. This measurement would have been relatively easy immediately after he died, but now twenty half-lives later the quantity that can be found is so low that it is almost identical to the quantity of Po-210 that is naturally present in the environment. This means that investigators must have very sensitive detectors and must carry out careful sample preparation so that very small fluctuations above the environmental level of Po-210 can be measured.




There were two stages to the investigation into President Arafat’s death. The original belongings of President Arafat were analyzed by the Swiss group in early 2012, which revealed enough evidence for the French prosecutor to launch a detailed murder investigation. President Arafat passed away November 11 2004 at the Percy Military Hospital west of Paris so the criminal investigation has been launched in France. As part of the investigation, President Arafat’s grave was exhumed and samples were taken from the corpse on Nov 2012. The samples were given to three independent forensic teams: Russian, French and the Swiss team that also investigated the original belongings in 2012.




No detailed results have been released by the Russian and French teams and the report released by the Swiss team and published by Aljazeera concerns both the first phase of the investigation of President Arafat’s belongings and the second one, the samples from his body. The 108 page report is a comprehensive, careful, clear, transparent scientific analysis, and the team should be commended on their rigour (TEPCO please learn from the Swiss!). However, as in all scientific analysis it also leads to further questions, surprises and unfortunately further doubts as well.


Analysis of Arafat’s belongings


Ironically, it is my opinion that the original analysis of President Arafat’s belongings holds the strongest evidence for a lethal Po-210 poisoning. Just last month, the British Journal Lancet published (behind paywall) a letter from the Swiss group summarizing the results of the Po-210 investigation on President Arafat’s belongings hyperlinked to an extensive appendix where for the first time the percentage of supported Po-210 was published.


To better understand the concept of half-life, picture the depletion of Po-210 due to radioactive decay to lead-206 (Pb-206) as a leak of a liquid through a spout at the bottom from a bucket. As the Po-210 decays the bucket is accumulating into a second Pb-206 bucket which has no spout because it is stable. In this analogy the wider the spout the shorter the half-life since the bucket will decrease quickly. If only Po-210 would be present then the quantity of Po-210 should follow the half-life of Po-210, that is after one half-life has passed only half the amount of Po-210 would be present. This would be called unsupported Po-210. Now, picture a third bucket that feeds into the Po-210 bucket, then as the Po-210 bucket is emptying it is being partly replenished by the third bucket. In fact, the third bucket exists in nature and is known as the isotope Pb-210 (see Figure 1 below). The isotope Pb-210 is present in small quantities and is a natural decay product of one of the isotopes of the radioactive gas Radon which is present in dwellings around the world. The fraction of Po-210 that is coming from Pb-210 decay is known as supported Po-210 because the Po-210 is constantly being replenished by Pb-210.





Figure 1: The series decay of Pb-210 to Pb-206 pictured as a series of buckets where the width of the spout is analogous to the half-life of the isotopes. Pb-210 has a 22 year half-life and so is pictured as a thick width spout, whereas Po-210 has a 138 day half-life and is pictured as having a considerably wider spout. The figure also demonstrates the notion of supported and unsupported Po-210. If the Po-210 is supported then the Po-210 that is decaying to Pb-206 is being replenished by the decay of Pb-210. If the Po-210 is unsupported then the Pb-210 bucket is essentially not there and the Po-210 decays to Pb-206 consistent with its 138 day half-life.


One would expect that if President Arafat would have been poisoned purely with Po-210 then only unsupported Po-210 would be present. However, just as there is natural Po-210 present in the environment there is also natural Pb-210 in the environment which influences the amount of Po-210 that is measured. The strongest evidence for Po-210 poisoning would be a large quantity of Po-210 on a sample, significantly above the level expected for the sample if no poisoning had occurred (the blank, or background level of Po-210) and if the majority of the sample demonstrates unsupported Po-210.


In fact, buried deep in the appendix of last month Lancet article, the Swiss group published that they found that a urine stain of a sample of underwear had a Po-210 quantity significantly above what would be expected. Most importantly, in a bomb-shell that the media missed, it was only 42% supported. Moreover, another urine stain found a high quantity of Po-210 as well, this time with only 10% supported indicating that it was as if there was almost no third bucket at all replenishing the Po-210. These results are discussed at length in the report released by Aljazeera this week. It is important to note that other samples randomly taken without visual cues as to the presence of urine showed a much lower level of Po-210 and can be seen as a “blank” measurement.


Being prudent scientists the Swiss group cannot discount the “voluntary mishandling of the specimens between the time of President Arafat’s death and the time the bag was presented”. However, they correctly temper this statement by saying that this type of tampering with evidence would require “very specific knowledge” and the “precise and selective contamination of clothing is a very difficult task”. The measurement of unsupported Po-210 significantly higher than expected from the blank is the first evidence and in my opinion the strongest evidence for Po-210 poisoning.


Analysis after exhumation


President Arafat’s body was exhumed in Nov 27, 2012, and the forensics teams approached the corpse carefully in order to understand the state of the body. The team took skeletal samples from Arafat’s body, the surrounding soil and the burial shroud. They conducted a genetic analysis to verify the authenticity of the skeletal remains, and conducted a toxicological analysis but found that there were no chemicals inconsistent with the medical reports. They hypothesized that the soil samples taken close to the body would have been contaminated with Po-210 by the presence of body fluids, whereas the soil samples away from the body could be considered as “blank” samples of soil. In fact, in further analysis they found a 15-fold increase in Po-210 concentration in the soil in a dark high humidity spot directly underneath the corpse compared to the soil sample away from the body. This is the second supporting evidence for Po-210 poisoning.


The team also took a sample from the Iliac crest and the scalp. The Illiac crest is the top part of the pelvic bone known as the Ilium. This sample was chosen because it tends to be covered on skeletonized remains with decayed tissue that has turned to a layer of wax (0.5-3 mm thick) insulating the bone from further environmental contaminants and sealing in the radioactive contaminants. When analyzing the level of Po-210 from these samples the level of contamination was not significantly different from the burial shroud which was also analyzed. However, the scalp showed a level of Po-210 more than twice as much as the highly contaminated soil underneath the body. Further analysis was conducted on bone fragments from the vertebrae, ribs, sternum and femur for the Po-210 concentration, and compared to other forensic reference samples of different ages at time of death. It was found that there was a significant increase above the reference level, especially in the ribs, for Po-210 contamination (see Figure 14 from Swiss report, pg 46, reproduced below as Figure 2).



 Figure 2: Po-210 activities of all measured bones from President Arafat’s grave, as well as comparable reference bones from reference bones. Full triangles: President Arafat’s bones. Open circles: bones of forensic interest (CURML). Open squares: IRA reference bones collected at autopsy. This caption is taken verbatim from Figure 14, pg 46 of the Swiss report. See also B. Schrag et al., Dating human skeletal remains using Sr-90 and Pb-210: case studies, Forensic Science International (2013, accepted for publication).


The exact data of the reference forensic samples were not given but I estimate that the Po-210 concentration from the ribs exceeded the reference samples by as much as an order or magnitude. Non-bone samples such as altered tissue which has turned to wax from various parts of the body and burial shroud were also analyzed and most of the samples were found to have significant quantities of Po-210. This can be seen as the third evidence supporting the hypothesis of Po-210 poisoning.


Finally, the Swiss group assisted by the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) used mass spectrometry to measure the fraction of (Pb-207/Pb-206). This isotope ratio would not be expected to vary much for the illiac crest, vertebrae and ribs in the body. However, if a significant amount of Po-210 would have decayed to Pb-206, then an increase in Pb-206 would register as a decrease in the (Pb-207/Pb-206) ratio compared to the reference samples. In fact, a lower (Pb-207/Pb-206) ratio was observed in the rib specimens, which is exactly the specimen which also registered with a high Po-210 contamination. This is the fourth evidence supporting the hypothesis that President Arafat was poisoned with Po-210 toxin.


Not the end of the story


However, this is not the end of the story. When carefully analyzing the Po-210 concentration from the grave specimens the Swiss team found that while the level of Po-210 was higher than the reference samples, the Pb-210 was also higher. Recall, that Pb-210 eventually decays to Po-210, so if Pb-210 is present it would replenish the Po-210 that is decreasing with the 138 day half-life. At face value seeing highly supported Po-210 would lead one to conclude that some unknown environmental contaminant is the actual cause of the observation of Po-210 and lead one to have serious doubts about some of the exhumation results. However, as the Swiss group points out there may be alternative explanations for the high amount of Pb-210.


One possibility which they have investigated was that by thoroughly washing the bone fragments to remove external contaminants they may have washed away a significant fraction of the Po-210 present in the bone. In further analysis they confirmed that the solution they used to clean the bones preferentially extracted polonium rather than lead. This would have meant that they may have underestimated the concentration of Po-210 present in the samples. However, when analyzing the non-bone samples which have not been cleaned, the fraction that is supported is not significantly below 100% and does not demonstrate the same unsupported Po-210 as the urine sample stain.


The team then considered an alternative explanation which is the presence of a Pb-210 contaminant in the original Po-210 toxin. The presence of even a low level contaminant would not be observable when the Po-210 concentration is high, but when the Po-210 is significantly reduced the presence of a Pb-210 contaminant may be observed. It is well known that purchased sources tend not to be radiopure and often have isotopic contaminants. To test this possibility the Swiss group purchased a Po-210 source from the Czech Metrology Institute to determine the Pb-210 presence in a commercially purchased source which they determined at a level of 1 part in 10 million. The presence of this contaminant can significantly change the fraction of supported Po-210 consistent with observation.


Furthermore, the team points out that when the results were first released commentators suggested that the reason for the Po-210 contamination was because of the fact that Arafat was a “passive” smoker. However, the high level of Po-210 found in his urine cannot be attributed to smoking since daily excretion of Po-210 for a heavy smoker would be 4500 times less than observed.


What’s next?


The report published by the Swiss group is a thorough forensic analysis and this status report only discusses some of the main points associated with the radiological investigation. The interested reader is encouraged to study the appendix to the Swiss report where the full analysis techniques and procedures are documented. The main results from the paper are summarized in the table below.






High Po-210 in Arafat Urine Stain

Unsupported Po-210 was found in a urine stain significantly above expected background level


High Po-210 in Soil sample taken from underneath corpse

A soil sample taken directly beneath the corpse in the area of the abdomen expected to be contaminated by bodily fluids was found to be highly contaminated with Po-210 at least 15 times higher Po-210 than an identical soil sample away from the corpse.


Bone fragments found to be highly contaminated with Po-210

Many bone fragments (especially from the ribs) were found to be highly contaminated with Po-210 compared to similar samples from forensic reference samples.


(Pb-207/Pb-206) measurement of bones indicated a higher Po-206 quantity in high activity samples

The (Pb-207/Pb-206) ratio was measured using mass spectrometric techniques at PSI and indicated a lower value for the high Po-210 samples, such as the ribs. This suggests that a significant quantity of Po-210 has decayed to Pb-206 which indicates an initial presence of Po-210.


Table 1: Summary of the main points of evidence that support the hypothesis that President Arafat was poisoned with a lethal dose of Po-210.


I conclude that the weight of the evidence moderately supports the hypothesis that President Arafat was poisoned with Po-210 in 2004. However, the high supported Po-210 concentration in the bones and non-bone fragments (evidence #3) does cause the nature of the Po-210 to be questioned. It is hoped that the forthcoming reports from the other two independent groups will shed further light on the hypothesis.



Dr. Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress is a scientist in residence and adjunct professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.










Middle East needs WMD experts to push the cause of arms control


By Nilsu Goren, Aviv Melamud, Ibrahim Said Ibrahim and Ariane Tabatabai – Middle East regional stability and security continues to face substantial challenges, among them the problem of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Israel’s opaque nuclear posture, doubts surrounding the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and other suspected weapons programs are all impediments to arms control efforts.


In an environment where terrorist organizations are active and statehood is fragile, physical protection of WMD materials and facilities is crucial to regional security. The importance of arms control in the Middle East is clear, and the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the region is urgent. The 2012 postponement of the long-awaited Middle East Conference on such a zone has added another layer of uncertainty, further complicating the already intricate arms control and nonproliferation landscape of the region.



In light of these challenges, a group of young arms control and nonproliferation experts from the region, known as the Middle East Next Generation Network, hopes to promote a better understanding of arms control issues and find a way to create a WMD-free zone. The network plans to create a free online training portal, available in all of the region’s languages, to raise awareness and engage professionals and the general public. The training course addresses what the network has identified as missing: higher education on arms control and nonproliferation across the region.


Little attention is paid to arms control and nonproliferation in the curricula of major universities. There are many reasons; some are state-specific, while others are general challenges. Most Middle East states lack specialists able to teach the topics, partly because the region suffers from “brain-drain” — those who leave home for higher education tend to stay abroad. Contributing to a shortage of expertise is a general lack of interest stemming from poor professional prospects in the field. Basic materials on the issues, in local languages, are scarce. Few specialized programs and degrees exist. Even in countries with technical, scientific and engineering capacities, there is no training on arms control and nonproliferation fundamentals. As a consequence, arms control and nuclear non-proliferation do not become part of the policy discussion.


Finally, in some states, the government has control over information related to security, and tends to discriminate against information that would contradict its position. This limits substantially the scope of free discussion and education on these issues. When the educational systems fail, there is no resource of knowledgeable critical-thinkers who can work to establish a WMD-free zone.


In addition to its education project, the Middle East Next Generation Network has identified further steps to begin creating a regional community of experts:


* Junior-level fellowships for recent graduates in Middle Eastern states to encourage employment, raise interest and convey prestige to those who become experts.


* The creation of NGOs specializing in arms control and nonproliferation that would cooperate in establishing a regional dialogue.


Concrete steps by regional governments toward the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East could lead to renewed and sustained engagement in nonproliferation. It also could help prevent regional conflict, weapons proliferation, and acts of terrorism. Three recent developments may ignite the process. First, Syria’s decision to adhere to the Chemical Weapons Convention and steps it is undertaking to dismantle its chemical weapons stockpile. Second, progress made between Iran and six world powers on Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Finally, all states in the region have participated in recent consultations regarding a WMD-free zone.


Establishing this zone in the Middle East would address a variety of pressing regional and international security concerns. It is our hope and belief that our education project in the region will be meaningful in supporting this process.



The authors are members of the Middle East Next Generation Network established by Dr. Chen Kane at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Nilsu Goren, from Turkey, is a graduate fellow at Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland. Aviv Melamud, from Israel, is a research associate at the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany. Ibrahim Said Ibrahim, from Egypt, is a fellow of the United Nations Program on Disarmament. Ariane Tabatabai, from Iran, is a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. This article originally appeared in Global Post at–