Forty-seven nations attended President Obama's Nuclear Security Summit this week in Washington. Among them were eight from the Middle East, including six Arab nations. Iran wasn't at the summit, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided at the last minute not to attend but sent a representative instead.
Netanyahu's move got most of the reaction in Arab media and on the Arab street. A majority believes that Israel once more undermined the United States and signaled trouble for the region, while other smaller but effective groups said Netanyahu did Arabs a service by bolstering the Arab position as moderates in the world.
"Thank you Netanyahu" for not showing up at the nuclear summit, said columnist Abdul Rahman al-Rashed in an op-ed for the Saudi Asharq Alawsat. Al-Rashed's sarcasm and direct criticism of the Israeli prime minister was not widely echoed across the Middle East. However, it was an opinion shared by many intellectuals among Arabs, the moderates and those with cool enough attitudes to analyze what's going on rather than offer the usual reactive opinion when it comes to Israel, Arabs and the United States.
In his column, al-Rashed explained how Netanyahu with his "inexplicable" actions is single-handedly moving his country toward international isolation.
From the United Arab Emirates, a headline in Gulf News on an opinion piece by Georges S. Hishmeh speaks the voice of the Arab masses: "Israel's intransigence undermines Obama. Netanyahu's absence from the nuclear summit struck another blow against peace," Hishmeh said. The accompanying political cartoon is an honest depiction of the region's widespread belief that Israel possesses nuclear warheads.
Arab eyes aren't only on Israel. They're very much concerned about Iran as well. They see both countries as potential nuclear threats to the region.
They're watching their moves with great interest as trouble between the two countries means bigger trouble for all of them. They're also concerned about the role played by the U.S. in the middle of the ongoing tensions between Iran and Israel. Many in the Arab world criticize the U.S. stand against Iran's nuclear ambitions while accusing Washington of ignoring any nuclear activities Israel might be involved in.
At the conclusion of the summit, Obama stressed that all nations, including Israel, should sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
He said, "Whether we're talking about Israel or any other country, we think that becoming part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty is important."
Israel's daily Haaretz reported on this call. "Israel operates a policy of 'nuclear ambiguity,' refusing to deny having atomic weapons - but has not signed the treaty and is believed by analysts to possess between 200 and 300 nuclear warheads," the article said.
The belief that Israel is a nuclear power is accepted across the Middle East - a fact that concerns leaders and ordinary people alike, even though Israel won't confirm or deny it. The concern doubled after Iran announced its nuclear ambitions and capabilities.
As for Iran, Obama pressed for "bold, swift" sanctions on suspicion Tehran is developing nuclear weapons despite being a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. He also added, "Sanctions aren't a magic wand. What sanctions do accomplish is hopefully to change the calculus of a country like Iran, so that they see there are more costs and fewer benefits to pursuing a nuclear weapons program."
Lebanon's Assafir newspaper highlighted that Israel rejected Obama's call to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and quoted Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a speech he made in Jerusalem following the summit. Barak said, "To our friends and our allies we say there is no room to pressure Israel into signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."
These messages send waves of concern in a region already skeptical of Israel's intentions and what people there believe is the international community's inability to control any situation that might arise.
A political cartoon from Asharq Alawsat sums up the Arab skepticism that change will ensue from the U.S. president's efforts.
The nuclear summit is represented by a negotiating table, but three key countries - North Korea, Iran and Israel - have their rear ends turned to the table, while a puzzled world looks on.