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 | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nuclear Tap Dance

When will the other shoe drop?

A piece of Barack Obama’s comprehensive peace plan emerged in the last few days, but was given very little coverage outside of the Middle East. Israeli papers, and their English-language web sites covered it, there were quite a few op-ed pieces, as well as the usual blog traffic. It involved Israel’s well-known, but opaque nuclear capabilities.

On Tuesday, May 5th, the US Assistant Secretary of State Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller urged Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea to sign the non-proliferation treaty. One hundred eighty-nine nations have. This includes Iran, which is flagrant violation; and Libya, which was “scared straight” by former President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. Speaking of which, Iraq was also a member of that elite club, but simply chose to ignore the rules. So, what value would a signature have?

Bargaining Chips

If Israel were to sign the NPT treaty, it would 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.

If it were reasonable, wouldn’t it have responded to the first round of sanctions? What about the second round of sanctions, which it ignored? Reason would also dictate that with 120,000+ US troops based in countries on its eastern and western borders, Iran would act cautiously. That hasn’t fazed the Iranians, either. America, weary of both wars, their costs and their casualties, would like nothing better than to leave both Iraq and Afghanistan. It knows it cannot do either, as Iran is poised to fill the vacuum should America leave precipitously.

It’s going to drop soon

Uzi Even, a former Knesset member and scientist at the nuclear reactor in Dimona, said the statement by the assistant secretary of state is indicative of a change in the US’ policy towards Israel regarding its nuclear capabilities. “In the past there was an informal agreement between the US and Israel; the Americans knew Israel possessed nuclear arms but looked the other way,” he said, “now the US breaching this agreement.”

Even suggests that Israel must change its deliberately vague nuclear policy and sign the NPT, which would place Dimona under international supervision. This would also allow Israel to develop nuclear weapons, at least theoretically. Even’s thinking is short-sighted.  Because the other shoe that is likely to drop as part of President Obama’s comprehensive plan is likely to be some sort of “strategic arms limitation treaty” for the Middle East. Everybody gets nukes and missiles, just not a lot of them.

Prime Minister Netanyahu better start polishing his own tap shoes before he goes to Washington: he just might need them.

May 15, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment