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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Can the United States be taken at its word?

In Wednesday's Washington Times, Eli Lake discloses that if in fact the United States tries to force Israel to sign the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT), or even officially acknowledges that Israel has nuclear weapons, it will be violating a 40-year old agreement made between the two countries by Golda Meir and Richard Nixon (Hat Tip: Noah Pollak).
For the past 40 years, Israel and the U.S. have kept quiet about an Israeli nuclear arsenal that is now estimated at 80 to 200 weapons. Israel has promised not to test nuclear weapons while the U.S. has not pressed Israel to sign the nuclear NPT, which permits only five countries - the U.S., France, Britain, China and Russia - to have nuclear arms.

The U.S. also has opposed most regional calls for a "nuclear-free Middle East." The accord was forged at a summit between Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and President Nixon on Sept. 25, 1969, according to recently released documents, but remains so secret that there is no explicit record of it. Mr. [Avner] Cohen [author of "Israel and the Bomb" and the leading expert outside the Israeli government on the history of Israel's nuclear program] has referred to the deal as "don't ask, don't tell," because it commits both the U.S. and Israel never to acknowledge in public Israels nuclear arsenal.

When asked what the Obama administration's position was on the 1969 understanding, the senior White House official offered no comment.

Over the years, demands for Israel to come clean have multiplied.


"What the Israelis sense, rightly, is that Obama wants to do something new on Iran and this may very well involve doing something new about Israel's program," said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a Washington think tank.


Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser for the George W. Bush administration, said that administration resisted international efforts to pressure Israel on the nuclear front.

"We did not want to accept any operational language that would put Israel at a disadvantage and raise the question of whether Israel was a nuclear power," he said. "That was not a discussion that we thought was helpful. We allowed very general statements about the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East as long that language was hortatory."

Israel began its nuclear program shortly after the state was founded in 1948 and produced its first weapons, according to Mr. Cohen's book, on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War. Israeli defense doctrine considers the nuclear arsenal to be a strategic deterrent against extinction. But its nuclear monopoly is increasingly jeopardized by Iranian advances and the possibility that Iran's program could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region.

Israel's arsenal has also been an open secret for decades, despite the fact that Israeli law forbids Israeli journalists from referring to the state's nuclear weapons unless they quote non-Israeli sources.


Israeli journalists and officials said Mr. Netanyahu asked for a reaffirmation and clarification of the Nixon-Meir understanding in 1998 at Wye River, where the U.S. mediated an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Netanyahu wanted a personal commitment from President Clinton because of concerns about a treaty that Mr. Clinton supported to bar production of fissile materials that can be used to make weapons. Israel was worried that the treaty would apply to de facto nuclear states, including Israel, and might oblige it to allow inspections of Dimona.

In 2000, Israeli journalist Aluf Benn disclosed that Mr. Clinton at Wye River promised Mr. Netanyahu that "Israels nuclear capability will be preserved." Mr. Benn described as testy an exchange of letters between the two leaders over the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. He said Mr. Netanyahu wrote Mr. Clinton: "We will never sign the treaty, and do not delude yourselves - no pressure will help. We will not sign the treaty because we will not commit suicide."

The Bush administration largely dropped the treaty in its first term and reopened negotiations in its second term with a proposal that did not include verification.


John R. Bolton, a former U.N. ambassador and undersecretary of state, said Israel was right to be concerned.

"If I were the Israeli government, I would be very worried about the Obama administration's attitude on their nuclear deterrent," he said. "You can barely raise the subject of nuclear weapons in the Middle East without someone saying: 'What about Israel?' If Israel's opponents put it on the table, it is entirely possible Obama will pick it up."

Asked about the issue, Jonathan Peled, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said, "We don't discuss the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel." The White House had no immediate comment.
Read the whole thing.

This story broke too late to make the editorial pages of the Israeli media, and undoubtedly they will weigh in tomorrow. But the Washington Times rips the Obama administration today for 'selling out [our] strongest ally to cozy up to [our] worst enemy.'
America treats Israel and Iran differently because they are fundamentally different. Israel is a dependable U.S. ally and a free liberal democracy. Iran is a long-standing enemy of the United States, is directly or indirectly responsible via Iraqi insurgents and others for more deaths of U.S. service members than any country since the Vietnam War. Its people suffer under an oppressive theocracy. We approve of an Israeli nuclear force for the same reason we approve of a British, French or American nuclear force: We know it will serve peaceful purposes. We oppose an Iranian nuclear force for the same reason we oppose a North Korean nuclear force: We know it will not serve a peaceful purpose. Any attempt to establish parity between Israel and Iran on the nuclear issue is dangerous and naive.


The notion that a nuclear-free world would be peaceful and secure is fatuous. The world was certainly not a nonviolent paradise before the advent of nuclear weapons. If anything, the Israeli nuclear arsenal has been a force for peace in the region. Arab conventional armies attacked Israel four times between 1948 and 1973. Since the suspected arrival of an Israeli nuclear capability, no country in the region has mounted another such invasion and Egypt and Jordan have made peace with Israel.

Meanwhile, Iran has underwritten continued terrorist attacks and pledged to wipe Israel off the map. For this reason alone, Tel Aviv should never be asked to give up its nuclear deterrent. It is a matter of national survival. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told then-President Clinton in the 1990s when asked to sign a treaty that would restrict Israel's access to fissile material, "We will not sign the treaty because we will not commit suicide."

If the Obama administration is genuinely interested in achieving durable peace in the Middle East, it will renew the policy of strategic ambiguity. Now is not the time to hit the reset button on one of the most successful strategies in U.S. diplomatic history.
Read the whole thing.

Netanyahu will be backed 'wall-to-wall' on this. All of Israel's Jews understand that like Iran's nuclear weapons program, our own nuclear program - whatever it may be - is not a matter for negotiations.

If the Obama administration pushes on this, they are likely to push peace further away rather than making it more likely. If the Obama administration pushes on this, the lesson should be obvious: America cannot be trusted. American assurances are not worth the paper on which they are written. The implications of those two sentences for concessions that Israel might otherwise make to the 'Palestinians' or the Syrians should be obvious to everyone. If American assurances are not valid from one administration to the next, Israel cannot rely on them to enter into long-term commitments.


At 3:41 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Just what I pointed out in my post when this first broke. If the US wants to pursue its interests to Israel's detriment, the opposite can also happen. Israel would prefer to work together with the US. But if forced to, Israel can undermine whatever plans the US has in the Middle East. Respect is a two way street and if America won't give it to Israel then America should not be surprised when Israel begins doing things without even giving America the usual "courtesy notice."

In other words, Israel may be a small country but Israel is not without the ability to independently influence events. Let's hope America keeps that in mind before demanding Israel sacrifice her vital national interests to help improve its image in the Middle East.

At 5:37 PM, Blogger sandy said...

First they have to get over their Bush Derangement Syndrome - then they'll get there. Being in the reform movement I see Jews supporting Obama, but they are concerned about Israel. I think they'll only go so far - or I hope they will.

At 6:27 PM, Blogger Freedom's Cost said...

Where are the strong Israeli leaders of yesteryear? Why is today's Knesset made up exclusively of political eunuchs?

At 8:35 PM, Blogger Captain.H said...

"First they have to get over their Bush Derangement Syndrome..."They won't.

Bush hatred is the tip-of-the-iceberg manifestation of leftist hatred of conservatism and traditional American values. Bush is now retired to his ranch in Texas, but the Republican Party still exists and American conservatives and libertarians still exist; the core of America still exists. That Obama and his fellow leftist fascists will continue to hate and attack at every opportunity.

As far as Israel and Israeli interests are concerned, part and parcel of this fascist left is barely disguised anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli hatred. As long as Obama and the hard left Democrats are in the White House and in control of Congress, the Israel-America alliance is tenuous at best. That is very sad, very disheartening and very much a fact proven by events.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Freedom's cost,

Many of them were sucked in to the Oslo fantasy, and when it became clear to them that it had failed, they had no place to turn. They were too ashamed to return to their roots, so they became eunuchs. Without giving up their Knesset seats of course.

Most of them are affiliated with Kadima today (Ariel Sharon, Shaul Mofaz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Tzipi Livni - to give just a few examples of people who come from good, solid Zionist backgrounds who got sucked in by the 'peace process' and are now afraid of their own shadows).


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