"If you allow Israel to have nuclear weapons why shouldn’t others?"
-Dr.Mahathir Mohammad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia
"They should have tanks, warplanes, warships, guns and missiles," Mahathir said.
"Yes, they need to have nuclear weapons too, because only with the possession of such would their enemies be deterred from attacking them."
Mahathir, 81, who retired as prime minister in 2003, remains highly respected and influential throughout the Muslim world.
He is currently on a lecture tour of Central and South Asia, and was addressing a conference on religious tolerance in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.
During his 22 years in office, he was known for his often caustic tirades against the West and its policies in the Middle East.
When asked whether Muslim nations in the Middle East should acquire nuclear weapons, Mahathir replied, "Well, if you allow Israel to have them, why should the others not have them too?"
Israel - which has neither confirmed nor denied reports that it possesses nuclear arms - is generally believed to have the world's sixth-largest stockpile of such weapons, including hundreds of warheads.
Mahathir, a frequent critic of the Jewish state and its nuclear arsenal, stressed that he believed in a world free of nuclear weapons.
"My own opinion is that we should get rid of them," he said.
"All nations should (give up) nuclear weapons, in particular the very belligerent United States."
He said that the US-led war against terrorism has turned into a war against Islam and Muslims, because only countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Syria are being targeted.
"The 'Axis of Evil' was supposed to include Iraq, Iran and North Korea," he said, referring to a comment US President George W Bush made in 2002 labelling the three countries as the "axis of evil."
"But no one really believes that North Korea is targeted. Even provocations by North Korea have not resulted in military strikes and invasion," Mahathir said.
In the visit to Kazakhstan a day earlier, Mahathir said there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim and US President George W Bush is mistaken in casting his war on terror in terms of a "struggle for civilisation".
Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled Malaysia for 22 years and is known for his frequent barbs against what he has called Western double standards, said he believed even the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US were at root linked to Israel's occupation of Palestinian land.
"What is happening today has got nothing to do with religion. It has got to do with territorial disputes, mainly the dispute over Palestinian land," he said after a religious congress in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan.
He said Bush's description of America's "war on terror" as "a struggle for civilisation" on the fifth anniversary of the attacks was flawed, as was the West's hope that moderate Muslims would have a dominant voice.
"There is no such thing as a moderate Muslim," he said. "We are fundamentalists in Malaysia. We follow the true teachings of the religion and the true teachings do not teach us to bomb and kill people without reason."
On Bush's comments, Mahathir, 81, said: "He's not civilised, he shouldn't be talking about civilising others."
Mahathir - whom Israel has in the past dubbed anti-Semitic - said he saw the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands as the root cause of Islamist extremism.
"They (the hijackers) had no direct link but there is a great deal of sympathy for the sufferings of the people of Palestine," he said.
Saturday, September 16, 2006