Missile madness: as Middle East tensions increase the menace of a new arms race by regional powers sharpens.

Author:Blanche, Ed

With the Middle East once again swept by war and turmoil and the Bush administration seeking to reshape the region, western concern about missile proliferation there has sharpened considerably, with allegations that Iraq and Libya have been getting European help to develop cruise systems. Meanwhile, Syria and Libya are reported to be continuing efforts to acquire nuclear and chemical weapons, with assistance from North Korea, Pakistan and possibly one or more Gulf states.

Egypt reportedly gets help from North Korea for its efforts to develop a ballistic missile. Cairo denies that, but the Americans continue to monitor their key Arab ally anyway. The December "interception" in the Arabian Sea of a North Korean ship carrying 15 Scud-C missiles to Yemen by a Spanish frigate of the multinational naval force combating terrorism underlined western efforts to stem the flow of such weapons and the technology to produce them into the Middle East.

But while the US-led campaign has had some success, it has proved impossible to institute a complete block. Following strident protests from Yemen--another supposed American ally in the war against terrorism--the US was forced to release the Scuds and other components hidden aboard the 3,500-tonne So San, that was sailing unflagged, and allow them to be delivered to Yemen.

The US and Israel (whose arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMPs) and ballastic missiles programme is by far the most advanced and lethal in the region but which the Americans never mention) have made much of the perceived threat to them from these states and Ariel Sharon, in particular, has sought to emphasise the dangers his country faces. Regional hostility towards the US and Israel mushrooms over George W. Bush's war with Iraq and Sharon's relentless oppression of the Palestinians.

In these circumstances, and given the widening gulf between the US (along with its demanding ally...

To continue reading