Obama and Israel’s nukes

My IPS news analysis piece yesterday was on the Obama administration’s intriguing injection of Israel’s nuclear weapons into the global and regional diplomacy. It’s here (and here.)
The piece attempts to put Rose Gottemoeller’s fascinating statement, made to an NPT review gathering in New York on Tuesday, into the broader context of Obama’s return to stronger support for the NPT– and the ‘non-proliferation’ strategy it embodies. This, after eight (or 16?) years of US support for the much more unilateral approach of ‘counter-proliferation’.
In the article I failed to spell out, as I should have done, that Iran is a member of the NPT.
Gottemoeller said,

    “Universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea … remains a fundamental objective of the United States.”

I have been interested to note that some people have reacted to the statement by saying it was “no big deal.” This includes Joshua Pollack, writing Wednesday on the normally quite sensible Arms Control Wonk blog.
Pollack was reacting to this excellent piece of reporting in the Washington Times.
He notably made zero mention of this equally excellent piece of opinion writing, in the WT the same day, which was by Avner Cohen, who is the world’s best-informed expert on the facts about, and impact of, Israel’s nuclear arsenal. (Oh, he also happens to be Israeli.)
Cohen argued that the US’s 40-year-old policy of, essentially conniving in Israel’s protection of its nukes through the use of a robustly maintained policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be changed.
He writes there,

    Israel’s nuclear opacity is incompatible with today’s norms of nuclear transparency.
    Instead of reaffirming those ancient Nixon-Meir [don’t ask, don’t tell] understandings, Israel’s interest favors forming with Mr. Obama a set of new and more open nuclear understandings that would reflect today’s political reality and nuclear norms. Those understandings should follow the idea of the Indian nuclear deal with the United States. That is, those understandings should openly recognize Israel’s status as a “responsible democracy with advanced nuclear technology.”
    Only such recognition would allow Israel to be engaged in meaningful arms-control and nonproliferation negotiations. The time has come to end the hypocrisy of not recognizing Israel’s nuclear status for what it is.

He also argued that the new policy could help make a negotiated approach to the Iranian nuclear question much more feasible– something he strongly supports.
Cohen’s recent piece in the Forward is also worth reading.
But the reason I found J. Pollack’s “no-big-deal” response to Gottemoeller’s statement so interesting is that this is exactly the tactic that Israeli hawks and their friends frequently use to “bury” news that they find disquieting. (This goes right back to Ze’ev Schiff’s early responses to Mordechai Vanunu’s revelations, back in 1986.)
Pollack’s argumentation is certainly all over the place. He quotes, with glowing approval, some comments that George Perkovich reportedly made (PDF) at a recent conference on nonproliferation.
Perko had said:

    I also think it’s not constructive to kind of like call out and talk about Israel as having nuclear weapons and that, you know, people ought to come clean and so on…

He also said,

    How would we create a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East? And you invite all of the states in the region, and you have the little placards there for Iran, for Saudi Arabia, so on and so forth – and Israel. And I guarantee you, Israel will show up and other seats will be empty…

This is dangerous and misleading nonsense. Even in present circumstances, if you convened a conference dedicated to the creation of a zone free of all WMDs in the Middle East, you would certainly get Egypt and Jordan prepared to turn up and commit themselves to the goal alongside Israel.
Yes, it’s true that Iran and Saudi Arabia don’t currently have diplomatic relations with Israel; but there are plenty of diplomatic contexts in which their representatives do sit down alongside those of Israel to discuss disarmament-related issues, and it’s perfectly possible to imagine a way the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament or some other UN-linked body could convene a gathering at which all the Muslim Middle East states would agree to sit down with Israel to discuss actions toward this important goal.
I suspect it would be Israel that would not sit down there, if it is made plain in advance that everyone’s nuclear weapons capabilities will certainly be on the agenda.
Why does Perkovich make such a silly and mendacious claim?
… Anyway, while J. Pollack was trying to argue that Gottemoeller’s statement was no big deal, Ha’aretz’s Aluf Benn and Barak Ravid were writing that the content of the statement– and the fact it had not been “coordinated with Israeli officials” in advance– was being understood by people in Israel’s political elite as signaling a big change from the lovey-dovey-ness Israeli governments have enjoyed with the White House under George W. Bush.
Good.

8 thoughts on “Obama and Israel’s nukes

  1. John Francis Lee

    That is, those understandings should openly recognize Israel’s status as a “responsible democracy with advanced nuclear technology.”
    In what sense is Israel responsible? Israel has refused to take responsibility for its nuclear program and nuclear weapons, Simon Peres is a denier of Israeli responsibility for the Gazan Holocaust, the central tenant of the Israeli defense of its aggression is never to take responsibility for its own acts, or to acknowledge that its very own policies are the source of its problems. Israel maintains that it is in fact on the defense against an enemy which hates it for what “it is”, not the crimes it has done day in and day out over more than four decades.
    It is just such irresponsibility that would allow Israel and Israelis the first use of nuclear weapons to “defend” themselves from their imagined existential threats. From that non-nuclear signatory of the NPT, Iran, for instance.
    The term “responsible democracy” seems custom tailored to appeal to the US and to Americans who, as unbelievable as it seems to the rest of the world, regard themselves as “victims” just as the Israelis do.
    And of course to date it is our “responsible democracy” alone which has actually incinerated a hundred thousand utterly blameless victims at a go using nuclear weapons, defending ourselves from an “existential threat” collapsing and on its knees in defeat on the other side of the earth.

  2. John Francis Lee

    Gottemuellar said:
    “Universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea … remains a fundamental objective of the United States,” Gottemoeller told the meeting, which hopes to agree on an agenda and plan to overhaul the treaty at a review conference next year.
    Speaking to reporters later, she declined to say whether Washington would take any new steps to press Israel to join the treaty and give up any nuclear weapons it has. Israel neither confirms nor denies whether it has what arms control experts assume to be a sizable atomic arsenal.
    Only a Washington insider could so flatly deny the logical consequences of outspoken policy.
    Cohen said:
    [T]hose old understandings were based on secrecy and nonacknowledgement, they invoke the notion – a wrong and unfair one – there is something sinful or conspiratorial about Israel’s nuclear exceptionalism, that there is a double standard in how America accepts nuclear Israel.
    There is nothing “sinful or conspiratorial” about America’s double-standard on Israel’s nuclear arsenal vs Iran’s? Only a Washington insider could stand flat-footed and spout such nonsense.

  3. eileen fleming

    Israel has also continued the inhumane restrictions against Vanunu that deny him the RIGHT to leave the state and the RIGHT to speak to non-Israelis ever since he emerged from 18 years in a tomb sized cell on April 21, 2004.
    One of the first things Vanunu said was, “I am not harming Israel. I am not interested in Israel. I want to tell you something very important. I suffered here 18 years because I am a Christian, because I was baptised into Christianity. If I was a Jew I wouldn’t have all this suffering here in isolation for 18 years. Only because I was a Christian man.”
    Vanunu faces 3 more months in jail for speaking with foreign media in 2004.
    Hear and see him on video 2005, 2006, 2008 talking about his FREEDOM of SPEECH Trial and more @ VANUNU ARCHIVES:
    http://www.wearewideawake.org

  4. Suzanne de Kuyper

    The new law being pushed through the US House and Senate to criminalize any criticism or even analyses of the use of force in occupying and appropriating Palestinian homes and land and citizens makes the discussions here null and void. Sounds like for the Israelis actual real discussion is unacceptable and could soon become a imprisonable offence.

  5. Suzanne de Kuyper

    The new law being pushed through the US House and Senate to criminalize any criticism or even analyses of the use of force in occupying and appropriating Palestinian homes and land and citizens makes the discussions here null and void. Sounds like for the Israelis actual real discussion is unacceptable and could soon become a imprisonable offence.

  6. Suzanne de Kuyper

    The new law being pushed through the US House and Senate to criminalize any criticism or even analyses of the use of force in occupying and appropriating Palestinian homes and land and citizens makes the discussions here null and void. Sounds like for the Israelis actual real discussion is unacceptable and could soon become a imprisonable offence.

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