Arab world split over Iran's nuclear programme
Some fear an Iranian atomic bomb, proliferation and another Chernobyl; others view it as the Muslim world's settling scores and countering Israel's power. Both are convinced that Tehran's nuclear programme has military objectives.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Some condemn Iran's nuclear programme, others defend it; some compare Iranian President Ahmadinejad to Hitler; others see him as the saviour of Islam's honour. By and large, the Arab world and its press are split over Iran's nuclear ambitions, this according to a study of Arab media reactions to Iran's nuclear project by the Middle East Media Institute (MEMRI) whose results were published in Lebanonwire. Whether favourable or not, the views all expressed an implicit or explicit disbelief in Iran's peaceful intention. Iran's nuclear bomb is the talk of the townn.

"Ahmadinejad (a new Persian Hitler) stands and challenges the world," writes Al-Siyassa. As in Nazi Germany, the "same drama is being repeated today in Iran".

For the Kuwaiti paper, the "fear is not of the [mere] acquisition of nuclear weapons and atomic energy—since the European countries have such weapons, as do Russia and Israel. What the world fears is that these weapons might fall into the hands of a truly unconstitutional and undemocratic dictatorship." For this reason, the "world is silent with regard to nuclear weapons in the hands of countries with constitutional institutions that do not make war-and-peace decisions in accordance with a leader's temper, a ruler's dream, or a cleric's fatwa".

In Al-Raya (Qatar), one writer noted ten points common to al-Qaeda and a nuclear Iran, but suggested that a nuclear Iran is much more dangerous than Al-Qaeda. "This is because a nuclear Iran has weapons, a strong army, great economic means, and strong security apparatuses. Iran also has powerful allies, whether states or organizations—such as Hizbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Hamas movement, and Syria."

In an editorial, the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram warned that if the world did not respond appropriately to Iran's announcement, a nuclear arms race might result in the region.

"Iran's development of nuclear capabilities will necessarily upset the balance [of power] in the region, particularly in light of the nature of Iran's relations with others in the region".

On May 16, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit said that Iran had the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but that, at the same time, Egypt was against nuclear weapons in the Middle East. "What is important is that no country [develops] a military nuclear program, whether it be Israel, or Iran, or any other country," he explained.

In an article in the English-language Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, al-Arabiyya director Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed said that the Gulf countries are the only ones likely to be targeted by Iranian nuclear weapons.

"It is inconceivable," he wrote, "that Iran will drop the bomb on Syria and target Jordan or Egypt. . . .  It is incomprehensible that Iran will bomb Israel, which has a shield of missiles, tremendous firepower, and nuclear weapons artillery sufficient to eradicate every city in Iran. In addition, any attack on Israel would mean the immediate, wide-scale destruction of the Palestinians. . . .  This means that if this destructive weapon is used, the only option for a target is the Arab Gulf [countries]. . . ."

Also for Qatari daily Al-Raya, the Gulf region is in "great danger". "How can we be calm about Iran, when it still occupies the UAE's islands, and has a problem with every country in the region?"

By contrast, Saudi government daily Al-Watan and the UAE's Al-Ittihad are more concerned of the potential environmental impact of Iran's nuclear programme. The latter is also apprehensive that Iranian nuclear technology might fall into the hands of terrorists such as bin Laden or Al-Zarqawi, adding that "Iran was thinking only of itself, and was not respecting the legitimate concerns of its Gulf neighbours".

At the other end of the spectrum, saving Islam's honour and countering Israel's atomic weapons are seen as good reasons for Iran's nuclear programme.

In an article in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Syrian Minister of Expatriate Affairs Buthayna Sha'ban wrote that "this step by Iran is a tremendous scientific and technological step, previously taken by other nations, such as India, Korea, and China."

This time all the fuss is about "a Muslim state that has obtained nuclear know-how and technology, and has stepped onto the track that will elevate it to the level of a country advanced in this sphere".

In an editorial, the Saudi daily Al-Watan called on the international community to place Israel at the top of the agenda and stop the discrimination of Iran.

Similarly, Jordanian daily Al-Dustour wrote that what "the international [community] demands from Iran is not demanded from other countries, particularly from Israel. The West, which is keenly opposed to Iran's nuclear program . . . helped Israel build its nuclear artillery, which is the greatest threat to the peace and security of the region."

"The ban on uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons proliferation is logical [but can only be] accepted when implemented by all countries, without exception".

In the same paper, Kamel Al-Sharif, secretary-general of the World Islamic Council for Da'wa and Relief, argues that the "danger [posed by] Iran is hypothetical; maybe it will happen, and maybe not. In contrast, the danger [posed by] Israel exists in the field, and we witness it daily in the form of bombs, missiles, tanks, armoured vehicles, and the killing of women and children."

For Mazen Hamed, columnist for the Qatari daily Al-Watan, US policy pushed Iran to develop missiles and nuclear weapons.

"How should [Iran] act when the American cannon overlook it [sic.]from the long border with Iraq and Afghanistan? How should it act when it is surrounded by the American navy and threatened by air, sea, and land? [. . . ] What should they do in face of [a prospective] attack on their military and nuclear facilities, about which they read every day? [sic]"

"In light of all this, it is natural for Iran to turn to defending itself and creating the means that will enable it to block or prevent such invasions".