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Israeli-Egyptian relations deadlocked over Israel's nuclear facilities

Egypt has repeatedly proposed to the IAEA a resolution that would subject Israel's nuclear facilities to international inspection
The Dimona nuclear power plant in the southern Israeli Negev desert on 8 March 2014 (AFP)

Israel has reportedly asked Egypt to stop pushing for a resolution that would force Israel to open its nuclear facilities to international inspection.

The draft resolution, which has been proposed repeatedly at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by Egypt in recent years, condemns Israel and demands that it open its reported nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection, Haaretz reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy, Isaac Molho, and National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen conveyed the message to Egypt when they met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shokry and other Egyptian officials during a visit to Cairo three weeks ago, reported Haaretz.

While not binding, the resolution demands that Israel allow IAEA inspectors access to its nuclear facilities and calls for an international conference focused on making the Middle East a nuclear-weapons-free zone.

The Israeli request comes ahead of an IAEA general conference scheduled for mid-September at which the motion is expected to be raised.

Long-term tensions

Egypt has long had a policy to lobby against Israel’s nuclear programme, according to Haaretz. 

Shoukry and his ministry are allegedly leading the move against Israel in the IAEA as part this policy.

Despite close bilateral intelligence and security cooperation between Egypt and Israel since President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi took office, the nuclear issue has been a source of tension between Israel and Cairo in recent months, senior Israeli officials told Haaretz.

Israel is reportedly disappointed that despite providing Egypt with support in its battle against militants in the Sinai, including allowing Egypt to deploy more troops in the area than originally agreed, Cairo has not changed attitude toward Israel’s nuclear issue.

“Despite everything that’s been going on in the region in recent years, Egypt is continuing as if nothing has changed and is acting against Israel in international forums,” a senior Israeli official told Haaretz.

Egypt reportedly led a drive to advance a resolution at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in May, calling for the creation of a nuclear-free Middle East. The resolution was blocked with the help of the US and Britain, reported the Israeli daily.

"The United States kept its commitment to Israel by preventing a Middle East resolution that would single out Israel and ignore its security interests and the threats posed to it by an increasingly turbulent Middle East," an Israeli official said following a call in which Netanyahu conveyed his gratitude to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Israel’s foreign ministry launched a diplomatic campaign in mid-July to thwart the resolution, calling on Israeli embassies and consulates in Europe to urge their host governments to oppose the resolution, reported the Israeli daily.

"The resolution is fundamentally biased and mistaken, aimed at diverting global attention from the real dangers of nuclear proliferation in this region," the document said. "This move will further politicise the IAEA and undermine the trust necessary for any regional dialogue on this issue."

Israel has pursued a policy of nuclear ambiguity, neither denying nor confirming the possession of atomic weapons. According to foreign experts, Israel is one of the world's most powerful nuclear states after France launched the country’s nuclear progamme in the late 1950s by building the Dimona reactor.

Israel has since been supported by the United States, which also supplied a small five-megawatt (thermal) research reactor at Nahal Soreq, reported i24news website.

Assumed to have the Middle East's sole nuclear arsenal, Israel never joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It surprisingly agreed this year to take part in the review conference as an observer, ending a 20-year absence.