Obama and Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal

Obama’s visits to the Middle East this week come on the heels of the surprise announcement by Rose Gottemoeller, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, that America would like every nation – including Israel – to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Israelis are still feeling the shockwaves generated by that announcement, confirming the hopes (or fears, depending on who you ask) that the Obama administration is initiating a major overhaul of its policy on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
The Obama administration will discover, however, that this is easier said than done. The current Israeli government will most certainly refuse to cooperate with the State Department’s new logical, fair-minded approach to non-proliferation.

It was none other than Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, who declared – with quite a bit of chutzpah – that the US government would adopt whatever policy Israel dictated. But Israelis should realise that the American president cannot be reduced to a puppet of the Israeli government.

When Israeli leaders talk about halting the Iranian nuclear program, it is a barely concealed threat of a military strike. Just last month, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz published an article by its senior commentator for military affairs calling for Israeli military action against the Iranian nuclear project. When the most liberal daily paper engages in shameless warmongering, alarm bells should start ringing.

Israel pushed the Middle East into a race for weapons of mass destruction. In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, the nuclear whistleblower, exposed the frantic bomb-making activity going on behind the walls of the Israeli nuclear facility in Dimona. Experts on nuclear proliferation estimate that Israel is armed with hundreds of atom and hydrogen bombs. Adding to this the biological and chemical weapons that Israel produces in the Nes Ziona Biological Institute, a frightening picture emerges: a state that is a powder keg of atomic, biological and chemical WMD.

Today we know that Israel developed nuclear arms while deceiving the US government. President Kennedy was opposed to Israel acquiring or developing nuclear weapons because of the dangers to regional and global stability. But Israel successfully deceived the American nuclear inspectors who were sent to investigate the Dimona reactor, showing the inspectors only a small part of the nuclear facility while hiding the weapons-making program which was located behind secret walls and elevators.

An Israeli attack on Iran is likely to produce catastrophic consequences, resulting in long-term escalation of violence between the two countries. Other nations and proxies could take sides leading, potentially, to a nuclear confrontation. But hostilities between Israel and Iran would not remain a regional war; they would have profound global consequences and threaten the lives of millions of US civilians and troops worldwide.

Considering the frightening possibility of an Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, it is critical that the US pursue a robust non-proliferation policy, and demand that all countries in the region sign and implement the NPT. This is the only way to prevent another war in the Middle East, and it is entirely in President Obama’s hands.

Barack Obama was elected as the harbinger of a new era of rapprochement between hostile nations. This goal will not be achieved, however, through lofty rhetoric alone. To insure our region does not become engulfed in flames or, even worse, in mushroom clouds, the American administration needs to rein in Israel, compel it to accept a regime of nuclear disarmament, and oblige it to open all nuclear, biological and chemical facilities and missile sites to international inspection. The same holds true for Iran and the other states in the Middle East.

The US and Israel are allies – a mantra repeated by virtually all American politicians, but not carefully analysed. Indeed, there is a “special relationship” between the two countries, though not in the conventional meaning of the term as used by AIPAC: The US finances and arms Israel, and the latter is the (sometimes) grateful recipient of American beneficence. Without US support, Israel would be reduced to a minor power. It would be unable to finance the occupation, the settlements in the West Bank and, of course, its nuclear arsenal. Using this leverage, the Obama administration can and should impose on Israel a policy of nuclear disarmament.

In a volatile region like ours, in which Jews and Muslims claim a direct link with the Almighty and even purport to speak in His name, the existence of nuclear weapons is a grave threat to world peace. This is particularly true with regard to Israel and Iran, where elements in each country believe in Armageddon as a prelude to redemption. Some of these fundamentalists and fascists even serve in key governmental positions.

Precisely because Israel has shown a pattern of recidivist behavior of initiating brutal wars of aggression (Lebanon II and Gaza in a span of less than two years), the Obama administration must enforce a non-proliferation policy in the Middle East with both Israel and Iran, thus preventing the disastrous consequences of a nuclear conflagration.

GIDEON SPIRO is a veteran Israeli journalist, human rights activist, and a founding member of The Israeli Committee for a Middle East Free from Atomic, Biological and Chemical Weapons. He publishes weekly on Israeli political websites http://www.hagada.org.il/eng and