Nuclear plant (illustration)
Nuclear plant (illustration) Thinkstock

For the first time in 20 years, Israel will take part as an observer in a major nuclear non-proliferation conference that opens at the United Nations on Monday, a senior Israeli official said Sunday, according to the Reuters news agency.

Assumed to have the Middle East's sole nuclear arsenal, and having never joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Israel has stayed away from gatherings of NPT signatories since 1995 in protest at resolutions it regarded as biased against it.

However, with Middle East upheaval and the disputed Iranian nuclear program often pitting Iran-aligned Shiite Muslims against Sunnis, a senior Israeli official saw in the April 27-May 22 NPT review conference a chance to stake out common causes, according to the Reuters report.

"We think that this is the time for all moderate countries to sit and discuss the problems that everyone is facing in the region," the Israeli official, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the subject, told the news agency on Sunday.

"I see this, coming as an observer to the conference now, as trying to demonstrate our good faith in terms of having such a conversation. We need direct negotiations between the regional parties, a regional security conversation, a conversation based on consensus. This (attendance at the NPT conference) is meant not to change our policy. It's meant to emphasize our policy," added the official.

Arab states have accused Western countries of double standards on the nuclear issue by not putting Israel's activities under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), while forcing Iran to honor its obligations under the NPT.

Arab countries have several times tried to pass a resolution expressing concern about Israel's alleged nuclear arsenal in the IAEA, but have been unsuccessful thus far.

The latest attempt to pass the resolution was in September. The measure was rejected by 58 votes to 45, with 27 countries abstaining at the IAEA’s annual general conference.

Western diplomats at the UN told Reuters on Sunday that Egypt, which has been one of the initiators of past moves against Israel, is unlikely to take as aggressive a stance against Israel now as it has at past NPT meetings. They added that Israel and Arab nations worried about the Iran nuclear deal are united for the time being by a common fear that the United States might concede too much to Tehran in the talks.

The Israeli official doubted the deadlock would be resolved at the pending NPT conference - anticipating, instead, an "Arab proposal that would not adopt the position of direct engagement" with Israel.

Still, the official described the NPT conference as a chance to build on opposition Israel shared with some Arab countries to the April 2 outline nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.

The conference "doesn't contradict a broader possible outreach," the official said. Without naming specific countries, the official said some Arabs appeared less attentive to Israel's non-NPT status as they were "too busy with bigger problems".

Among these might be Egypt, which had long been vocally opposed to Israel's nuclear opacity but has recently closed ranks with its neighbor against common Islamist adversaries, noted Reuters.

It is known that Arab governments have been expressing their concern about the terms of a potential nuclear deal with Iran. The major Sunni states, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, have said that a final agreement could allow Shiite-dominated Iran, their regional rival, to keep the technologies needed to produce nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, recently said that Iran should not be given “deals it does not deserve”.

The concern in Saudi Arabia over the nuclear deal with rival Iran is so great, in fact, that a columnist in a Saudi-controlled government newspaper recently expressed support for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s warnings against a deal with Iran.