by: Benjamin Joffe-Walt
Part of larger US efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program, the initiative carries with it one tricky quandary: a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction would, by inference, involve the complete nuclear disarmament of a United States ally: Israel.
Arms experts believe that Israel has more than 200 ready-to-launch nuclear warheads, but for decades Israel has maintained a policy of nuclear ambiguity—neither confirming nor denying whether the country possesses nuclear weapons. Israel is the only country in the Middle East not to have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and—along with North Korea, Pakistan and India—is one of four nuclear countries outside the treaty.
Most Arab leaders have walked a tightrope regarding Israel’s nuclear arsenal, preferring to defer to Israel’s policy of ambiguity out of fear that public acknowledgement of Israeli nuclear weapons would force them into developing their own nuclear weapons programs, war, or both. While the United States was never pleased about Israel’s nuclear arsenal, it too has adhered to Israel’s policy of deliberate ambiguity, avoiding a confrontation with the Jewish state over its nuclear status.
But that began changing last year, when in a preparatory meeting for this month’s conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, US Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller called on Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Gottemoeller said that “universal adherence” to the Non-Proliferation treaty “remains a fundamental objective of the United States.” She specifically named India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.
Over the ensuing months it became clear that the new US approach was to promote “universal adherence” as a strategy towards curbing Iran’s nuclear program. American officials are understood to have discussed the idea of a nuclear-free Middle East with Egypt, Israel, Turkey, and leaders of the Arab League.
“The proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone as a reasonable course is actually not new,” Hans Blix, former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and current chair of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, told The Media Line. “Arab states have always been concerned about the Israeli nuclear program, and while that concern remains today, added to it is the concern in the region about Iran’s nuclear program.”
“So in a way, this proposal has the advantage of not pointing at any one particular country, be it Iran, Israel or the many Arab nations that now want to develop nuclear programs,” he said. And “while Israel certainly regards its nuclear arsenal as a sort of life insurance policy, that life insurance policy may be less useful if other countries in the region also have nuclear weapons. It’s a long shot, but Israel might find it preferable for no one in the region [to] have nuclear weapons than for everyone to have them.”
Dr. Mustafa Alani, Director of Security and Defense Studies at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, said that while there has been a shift in the US approach, it was unlikely to work. “This administration is clearly sincere in their pursuit of nonproliferation and they realize that the question of Israel is major here,” he told The Media Line. “In a way, regional cooperation with the US’s nonproliferation efforts has become dependent upon the condition that Israel is part of the system.
“But actual disarmament is a long way away,” Dr Alani said. “The US will try to convince Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but I don’t see it happening now. The conference will probably end with a compromise ‘calling on’ all parties to observe the principals of the treaty but without any action. That’s what we saw in 1995, and that’s what we’re going to see again here.”
Posted on May 17, 2010
Source: (Excerpts of an article from The Media Line, May 04, 2010)
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