The UN and EU have launched a diplomatic initiative to persuade Israel to agree and declare a ban on nuclear tests in the Middle East.
Dr Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) – which is marking its 20th anniversary – kicks off his two-day visit to Israel today to push forward the initiative. He will meet with Zeev Snir, director-general of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission and other top IAEC officials, as well as cabinet ministers.
This will be the second visit in 14 months for Zerbo, a geophysicist by education from the West African nation of Burkina Faso.
According to the treaty, the treaty is not officially and legally binding without the ratification of eight countries: the US, China, North Korea, India, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt and Israel.
In actuality, though, with the exception of North Korea, the ban is fully and universally maintained and respected in land, underground, sea, under sea, air and outer space. Out of the eight countries, North Korea was the sole actor to conduct a nuclear test.
One new plan that Zerbo is advocating is a nuclear test-free zone in the Middle East.
“One idea that has reemerged over the last few months is the establishment of a nuclear-test-free zone in the region,” he said in Geneva recently. “As you all know, the establishment of a Middle East WMD-free-zone has stalled. It continues to be one of the chief challenges in the NPT process. A nuclear-test-free zone could be a building block toward the establishment of the WMD-free zone. I see such a zone taking shape through joint ratification of the CTBT by these countries. All have signed the treaty, so ratification does not require any policy U-turns. And it would help build much-needed confidence among the main regional actors. A number of voices have lent their support to this idea. And I am willing to help in any way I can.”
Zerbo’s initiative – which is supported by the EU “Foreign Minister” Federica Mogherni – is an effort to circumvent the deadlock regarding the proposal by the International Atomic Energy Agency to create a Middle East free of nuclear weapons.
Israel has been killing the motion whenever it has been introduced, arguing that this should be the last phase to be implemented only after all Middle East states recognize its right to exist; and that signed peace treaties and security arrangements are put in place, including the dismantling of all weapons of mass destructions – chemical and biological weapons – as well as their means of delivery, i.e. missiles.
Zerbo’s idea is basically declaratory, since in reality, as far as is known, not a single country in the region has ever performed a nuclear test. Not even Iran, which until recently was rushing to build nuclear weapons until it was stopped by last year’s nuclear deal with the West.
It was claimed – though never officially documented or confirmed – that in 1979, Israel and South Africa conducted a nuclear test in the atmosphere of the India Ocean.
It is unlikely that Israel will agree to Zerbo’s initiative or soon ratify the CTBTO.