The contemptuous treatment of President Barack Obama and the United States by the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is setting the stage for a continuing string of disasters in Middle East. Netanyahu just stuffed it to Obama by continuing settlement expansion, despite Obama’s humiliating pleas to freeze that expansion in the interest of restarting the pusillanimous “indirect” peace talks. At the same time, Israel’s increasingly belligerent rhetoric suggests it is spoiling for a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities … at attack with unknowable adverse consequences for the United States and the world, according to the American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, a patriotic canary in the coal mine who is vigorously trying to dissuade the Israelis from this crazy option. These are only the latest installments of the successful strategy of Mr. Netanyahu and his arrogant colleagues to turn the hopes and dreams unleashed by President Obama’s Cairo speech into a distant, humiliating memory.
Now, yet another complication is looming for our hapless President: According to a 9 Mar 2010 BBC report, both Israel and Syria just informed an OECD energy conference they wanted to build nuclear power plants to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. On the surface, one could argue that these are not unreasonable requests, at least when one judges them in the context of President Obama’s intentions to do exactly the same thing in the United States, albeit in the interests of reducing CO2 greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, each nation could claim a greater need for nuclear power than the US, because the US has far greater reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas per capita that either Israel or Syria. Of course the Middle East is not even close to being a reasonable world, and if past is prologue, Israel’s “peaceful” nuclear ambitions will be treated very differently from Syria’s, or those of any other Islamic country, for that matter. This bias could inflame tensions, further undermine our position in Middle East, and encourage even more aggressive behavior on the part of Israel, which is behaving more and more like a spoiled adolescent bully than a mature nation trying to find moral legitimacy in a civilized world.
Notwithstanding Netanyahu’s clear contempt for Obama, we should not be surprised if Obama eventually caves in to support Israel’s request and even agrees to supply financial aid to fund Israel’s proposed reactor. Indeed, we might even expect that such aid to be coupled with an Israeli promise to buy US weapons technology (with money we lend to Israel before forgiving the loan). Moreover, at the same time, it is probable that Mr. Obama or Secretary Clinton will end up denouncing Syria’s parallel effort to build a civilian nuclear power capacity as an example of unprincipled, destabilizing aggression.
The unbalanced treatment of Israel’s nuclear ambitions has already reached absurdly dangerous levels, particularly given Israel’s bullying belligerence to its friends and foes alike. It is reflected in the double standards applied to enforcement of the non proliferation treaty (NPT), which all the members of the international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are supposed to sign. The NPT aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to foster the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of disarmament. The Treaty establishes a safeguards system under the responsibility of the IAEA, which also plays a central role under the Treaty in areas of technology transfer for peaceful purposes.
Both Syria and Israel are members of the IAEA; indeed Israel is one of the founding signers of the IAEA statute in 1957; while Syra signed it in 1963. However, in accordance with the statute, Syria signed the NPT, but Israel did not not and still refuses to so. That is because, as we all know, Israel has a long standing nuclear weapons program that goes back to decisions made in 1949. Today, Israel has the only operational arsenal of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
Although Israel has never acknowledged this capability under its so-called policy of strategic ambiguity, its weapons are an open secret. Classified US intelligence estimates of the Defense Intelligence Agency, made public on 22 Feb 2004 in a UPI report, concluded that Israel had an operational arsenal of 82 nuclear weapons (i.e, weapons + the means of delivery). And in 2008, the Joint Forces Command actually let the classified cat out of the bag in its unclassified Joint Operating Environment report (page 37) with a generally worded statement confirming the existence of Israel’s nuclear capability. Most estimates of Israel’s nuclear arsenal range from 80 to 200 weapons. Israel is the only country in the Middle East possessing an arsenal of atomic weapons as well as the means to deliver those weapons.
The question of how treat the parallel desires of Israel and Syria with regard to fielding a civilian nuclear reactor capability is further complicated by (1) the awful precedent the United States is establishing with India and (2) President Obama’s promotion of nuclear power as a green technology to reduce emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere, which many (but not all) scientists hypothesize is the manmade cause of global warming. Consider, please, the following:
In 2005, President Bush approved a deal to supply India with nuclear fuel and technology for civilian reactors. Bush approved this deal, knowing full well that India, like Israel, has an operational arsenal of atomic weapons, and that India, like Israel, has not signed the non proliferation treaty, even though India is, like Israel, a member of the IAEA. In fact, India is currently on the IAEA’s board of governors! The Obama Administration has taken Bush’s plan a step further by agreeing to an even more cynical deal that couples the sale of two US nuclear reactors to a promise by India to buy weapons from US manufacturers (at stake is a $12 billion competition with European aircraft manufacturers to buy 126 fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force).
President Obama is exploiting the liberal hysteria over the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis to resurrect the US nuclear power industry. By this action, he is also unleashing the reinvigorated domestic lobby of the nuclear power industry, even though the primary criticism that put a stop to the expansion of nuclear power — the question of how to protect our citizens from the deadly threat of highly toxic nuclear waste materials — remains a clearer and more present danger than any of the hypothesized threats of global warming. We can expect, therefore, a natural alliance to emerge between the powerful nuclear lobby and the powerful Israeli lobbies to push for US aid to Israel with respect to its sale of nuclear technology under the auspices of existing US security assistance policies.
Thus, it may be only a matter of time before Mr. Obama’s “green” policies are hijacked by the very Israelis who hold him in contempt, setting up a deal in the form of arms-nuclear power plant swap similar to that being proposed for India, except on more generous terms, given our government’s predilection for exporting front line technology and forgiving loans to Israel.
Should such an outcome transpire, it will serve to increase the blatant hypocrisy of our probable opposition to Syria’s (or any other Islamic country’s) ambitions to produce nuclear reactors for civilian uses. Such an outcome will also work to further isolate the moral position of the United States in the Islamic world and encourage more of them to obtain atomic weapons, if only for their own defense. Moreover, by rewarding Israel, a country that holds the US government in contempt, such an outcome will merely serve to intensify that country’s contempt and its bullying belligerence.
But today, like the India deal, these probabilities remain below the public’s radar screen while lobbyists beaver away in the back rooms of Versailles on the Potomac.
Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon. He currently lives on a sailboat in the Mediterranean and can be reached at email@example.com