Believing in the impossible

Working for a weapons of mass destruction-free Middle East

UPDATE: Join the CND event on May 22 — Working for Peace in the Middle East — featuring METO’s Sharon Dolev (Israel) and Emad Kiyaei (Iran). Register here.

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Hunkered down in the Covid isolation that so many of us have struggled with, three individuals got together. Not in person, but to consolidate and formalize an idea. It was an idea that Israel and the Arab States, some of which latter are at enmity with each other, not only should, but can, live at peace in the region.

And so it was that an Israeli, an Iranian and a Brit came to formalize an earlier conception— the Middle East Treaty Organization (METO). For many years just a campaign, METO became its own entity when its three founders — Sharon Dolev of Israeli, Emad Kiyaei of Iran, and Paul Ingram of the United Kingdom — found themselves with pandemic-induced time on their hands.

Accordingly, they registered METO as its own organization and set up a website. Then they told their story to the international news agency, Pressenza. (Beyond Nuclear is a partner organization with Pressenza.)

Their inspiration came from the discovery that they were, says Dolev, “campaigning on something that everybody believes has no solution.” She asked herself: “it seems like everybody is asking for something impossible to happen while they believe that it’s impossible. How can you campaign on something that everybody believes that it’s impossible?”?

So she, Ingram and Kiyaei decided to find a way make it “possible.”

In the days when getting together was another thing that was still “possible,” Dolev met with Ingram and they “just mapped out everything that they said was impossible,” and started to “imagine” the zone — a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. A Middle East at peace.

With Kiyaei also on board, the Middle East Treaty Organization was born. “The Middle East Treaty Organization (METO) aim has one goal: to establish or to commit to or support the establishment of a WMD free zone in the Middle East,” Kiyaei told Pressenza.

“We want all the chemical weapons, biological weapons and nuclear weapons to be gone from the region: not to possess them, not to use them, not to produce them, not to stockpile them, and not to have other world powers who have these weapons bring them to the region.”

METO is a civil society network, not governmental, and works much like ICAN, toward a humanitarian goal of peace in a deeply troubled region. “We’re just providing an avenue forward,” said Kiyaei, “and we’re saying, ‘Listen, I know you guys think it’s impossible, but it’s not, and we’re going to show you that it’s not, and we’re going to give you some form of a blueprint.’”

The avenue to a weapons of mass destruction-free Middle East, the trio says, is through a treaty. A draft is underway. “But that’s not actually where we’re going to stop,” says Kiyaei. “We have big plans beyond the WMD-free-zone, because our vision is not just that. We want a better, thriving, prosperous, secure Middle East where Sharon and I can meet for lunch in Damascus and have dinner in Tehran and have breakfast in Tel Aviv. That’s what we want.”

Rather than force a Middle East WMD free-zone on a reluctant diplomatic community, says Ingram, “What we’re doing is we’re creating a process that draws diplomats into a can-do attitude. So it’s a realistic attitude. It’s an attitude that acknowledges that this is really, really challenging and difficult, but we’re taking steps in the constructive, positive way and we treat diplomats seriously.”

The process requires some diplomacy of their own. “We don’t treat them as targets to be shouted at or bashed over the head,” said Ingram. “We treat their concerns and their challenges seriously, and we listen and we draw them into a process where they are heard. And when somebody is heard, and their concerns are treated seriously, then they start to soften and they start to open up, because they’re treated as human beings.”

Left to right: Sharon Dolev (photo: ICAN), Paul Ingram (photo: Globa Zero), and Emad Kiyaei (Photo: Twitter page)

A key reason, the three say, why there is no such zone in the region is, of course, Israel, and its possession of nuclear weapons. “There’s one nuclear weapon state in the region and that’s Israel and for a zone to be established Israel has to disarm,” said Kiyaei. The Israelis of course do not want to disarm without a regional peace deal first, and the Arab states won’t disarmament first. “So this sort of back and forth between the how and when and what has been dragging on for years,” he said.

As reported by the Arms Control Association, in 2018, the UN First Committee adopted a resolution introduced by Egypt on behalf of the Arab League for the UN secretary-general to convene a conference on taking forward a WMD-free zone in the Middle East in 2019 and every year thereafter until a zone is achieved. Israel, Micronesia and the United States voted against the resolution and 71 countries abstained.

“Now that means that it has to be based on consensus and everybody’s included,” Kiyaei said. And although neither Israel nor the United States participated, what’s important, insists Kiyaei, is the process. The November resolution, he said “gives us a major boost in terms of finding ways to bring these countries together”.

Agrees Dolev: “Just because Israel is not in the room doesn’t mean that this conference is not important. It gives a huge chance for the states to find a treaty that Israel can join once it’s written. They can even declare the zone if they like without Israel but they can declare the zone. They can make it into a reality without Israel, if that’s what they want to achieve.”

Many want peace in the Middle East. METO aims to help show the way to making it possible. (Photo by Alisdare Hickson/Creative Commons)

Ingram, as a British citizen, feels a particular responsibility to the cause. “If we look at that region and see the way in which we in Europe have been a cause of so many of the problems, we have a responsibility to engage constructively and humbly in relation to the Middle East,” he told Pressenza. “And the WMD free zone is an ideal opportunity for people outside the region to recognize their role in building a better, safer world, and that requires humility, it requires listening, it requires being silent a lot of the time and recognizing the roles we all play, all of us, wherever we are, and however we are operating, in creating and exacerbating the problems that we’re trying to resolve.”

Says Kiyaei: “What happens in the Middle East ripples all the way throughout the world. So if that ripple is through peace then we bring stability, if that’s through carnage we will ripple carnage all around the world.”

Concludes Dolev: “One of the things that I would like to see, when you enter the building of METO, is a map of the Middle East and a new train system that takes us around, even if the train system is not there yet. Just to imagine the fact that we can travel around the Middle East like people can do in Europe will give people such a realization of what peace in the Middle East looks like. So, just to help people imagine normalization in the Middle East, and I’m not talking about normalization between the states, I’m talking about normalizing our lives here, will be a dream come true.”

This article was derived from a longer Pressenza interview with Dolev, Ingram and Kiyaei.

Headline photo: Two of Islam and Judaism’s holiest sites, Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, seen through barbed wire. By Ryan Rodrick Beiler/ Shutterstock.

%d bloggers like this: