BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

The other shoe dropping

From the ‘I told you so files’

On May 15th I posted a column to this site entitled “When will the other shoe drop?”  It analyzed a little-covered diplomatic scuffle that occurred on May 5th, when the US Assistant Secretary of State of State Rose Gottemoeller urged Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea to sign the non-proliferation treaty.  In his June 4th speech in Cairo, President Obama stated “I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not.  No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons . . . And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Propaganda Victory? Not likely!

If Israel were to sign the NPT treaty, it would theoretically open the door to IAEA inspections.  This means Dimona, the site of most of Israel’s nuclear research activities.  The reasoning goes like this: if Israel were to sign and admit inspectors, it would put pressure on Iran to give IAEA inspectors access to Iranian facilities, and also put pressure on them to start abiding by previously agreed upon limitations.  However, reason and Iran seldom go together.

Some would contend that signing the treaty Israel would score a major propaganda victory over Iran in the struggle to contain the latter’s nuclear development program.  This is shortsighted.

Israel has a well-documented public relations problem.  Even when it takes actions that are totally justified, it takes a beating in the court of world public opinion.  Signing the NPT would focus the non-proliferation spotlight on Israel.  Secondly, signing the NPT would cause Israel to incur many, many obligations vis-à-vis the treaty’s mandatory clauses.  Every time Israel hesitated to fully disclose its nuclear capabilities, failed to give IAEA inspectors full access or provide complete documentation, it would make front-page headlines.

Giving Away Bargaining Chips

Secondly, signing the NPT and fully living up to its commitments would be an intelligence bonanza for the Arab and Iranian governments.  They would know the exact extent of all of Israel’s nuclear development programs.  They would know what technologies were being used and how they are being used.  Israel’s nuclear program would then be a yardstick by which they could measure the need to accelerate their own domestic programs.
Israel has a range of options on this matter, but is going to find itself increasing constrained over the next several years.  The options are:
•  Not to sign NPT and continue the policy of deliberate ambiguity as far as its nuclear weapons program is concerned.  This policy probably has a shelf-life of two years, three years top.
•  Sign the NPT without any pre-conditions and regardless of the fact that Iran has dropped out of it.  This option is flawed for the reasons I stated above.
•  Attempt to cut a deal similar to the one India made with the Bush Administration.  President Obama is unlikely to be so generous, however, what if Israel were to sign a similar treaty with China, India or Russia?  Both China and Russia would benefit immensely in terms of their presence on the world stage, and both countries are quite resilient to international criticism. Israel already has deep military ties with India.
•  Make a bold diplomatic move by announcing its intent to sign the treaty, if India, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea do so.  Since Iran and North Korea are almost certainly going to be unwilling to sign the NPT, it would be any empty gesture.  However, it would put the proliferation question, at least in part, back into its global perspective.

There are probably several more options that are available – like conducting a nuclear test – which I haven’t discussed.  The fall out from that option – excuse the pun – would be too negative to imagine.  Regardless of which option it chooses, either Binyamin Netanyahu or his successor will have to deal with it. The other shoe has dropped, it just hasn’t hit the ground yet.

June 5, 2009 - Posted by | Middle East | , , , , ,

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