The Middle East nuclear weapon free zone (MENWFZ) is a proposed agreement similar to other nuclear-weapon-free zones in other regions. Steps towards the establishment of such a zone began in the 1960s led to a joint declaration by Egypt and Iran in 1974 which resulted in a General Assembly resolution (broadened in 1990 through the Mubarak Initiative to cover all weapons of mass destruction). Following the 1995 NPT Review Conference, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held a series of meetings involving experts and academics to consider ways to advance this process.
Such a zone would strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), would help to promote global nuclear disarmament and would also help the Middle East peace process as substantial confidence-building measures.
The United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 (the ceasefire ending the Gulf War) recognizes the goal of establishing the MENWFZ (para 14).
For the Egyptian government (until the political changes of 2011), a MENWFZ was seen as a central source of pressure on Israel to relinquish its ambiguous nuclear policy, and to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Until the Iranian nuclear program, Israel was believed to be the only Mideast country to have a nuclear deterrence capability, developed in the 1960s. As Avner Cohen, Gerald Steinberg and other experts have noted, Israeli policy has emphasized the link nuclear demilitarization to a comprehensive peace settlement including Palestinian issues and with countires and potential threats in the region, including Syria and Iran. Israel maintains a veil of “studied ambiguity” (“amimut”) about its nuclear arsenal, and has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Four countries in the Middle East have been found in non-compliance with their IAEA safeguards obligations under the NPT: Iraq, Libya, Iran, and Syria. Of these cases, Iran and Syria remain unresolved.
Following pressure from Egypt and the Arab League, the 2010 NPT Review Conference called for holding a conference on a MENWFZ which would primarily press Israel to end its policy of a ambiguity. Finland planned to host such an event in 2012. However, no agreement was reached on the agenda and other issues, and the conference was called off in November 2012.
An international group of concerned citizens, including former members of the Israeli Knesset, responded to the lack of progress in official talks by organizing an International Conference For A WMD-Free Middle East. It was held in Haifa in December 2013.