Creating a world free from nuclear perils by seeking the cooperation of nuclear states in strengthening the nonproliferation regime is a lofty ideal. However, while Israel refuses to acknowledge its nuclear status, the whole progress stands impeded. If the Obama administration does not succeed in persuading Netanyahu to sign the NPT and continues its debate on Iran’s nuclear program then it will make the nonproliferation efforts little more than hypocrisy and the participating Muslim countries in the region like Pakistan are not likely to let it slide. In post cold war world, the key issue for NATO and its allies was to deter the challenges while formulating alternative approaches. For this purpose, they decided to introduce arrangements like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT. One of the main problems after the disintegration of Soviet Union was to manage the fissile material. To tackle this issue, they decided to formulate such provisions in the NPT which could ensure the peaceful uses of nuclear technology.
Obama has been one of the most active leaders in the post cold war era perpetuating this American dream which required not only political cooperation but also willingness of world leaders. Obama said, “All nations must come together to build a stronger, global regime”. He has held the view that the world without nuclear weapons will not only strengthen peace and security but it will also promote international and regional level cooperation. Therefore, the success of this vision is purely based on the cooperation of nuclear states and their approach to remove the nuclear warheads.
The whole scenario of cooperation has recently been put at risk when the Israeli prime minister refused to attend the nuclear summit called by President Obama in Washington (where notably North Korea, Syria and Iran were not invited). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ostensibly took a decision to skip this Washington call and decided to send his deputy prime minister and minister for intelligence affairs Dan Meridor to represent him. It was not only a surprise for American administration but it also complicated the non-proliferation debate. This Israeli behavior has drawn more attention toward its controversial nuclear status. It also seems like an attempt of embarrassed Israel to defy NPT once again. The concerns of the Muslim leaders in this gathering were a major factor calculated by Netanyahu and were leading to a demand for Israel to open its nuclear facilities for international inspections and make it necessary for them to sign the NPT for the development of a nuclear free region. The nuclear status of Israel is already a critical question but now it is a major challenge for Obama’s mission on how to develop a world without nuclear weapons.
The strategy of deliberate ambiguity adopted by Israel about its nuclear weapons has forced its leaders not to declare its country’s nuclear status. Israel always denied its nuclear capability and opted for a controversial stance over its nuclear program. Although there are several reports which have already provided profound details about the Israeli nuclear capability, we need to consider this issue in more detail. In Mordechai Vanunu’s interview to Sunday Times in 1986, he reported that the French supplied Dimona nuclear reactor in the 1950s and Norway provided heavy water to Israel. These are explicit evidences which can easily expose the nuclear status of Israel. As a result of this and other information, it is believed that the Dimona nuclear reactor has produced 200 nuclear warheads. Yet Israeli authorities maintain their ambiguous stance about its undeclared nuclear weapons, saying that Israel is not the first nuclear state in the region.
US administration never put pressure on Israel to quit its policy of nuclear opacity. Israel clearly has US assurance that it will not face critical debate on its nuclear status as demonstrated on many occasions in the past. In 1961 Israel was allowed to stay outside the NPT in a New York meeting between Kennedy and Ben Gurion. Later, in 1969 Richard Nixon during his visit of Israel met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Nixon administration accepted the Israeli pledge not to test nuclear weapons or publicly admit their possession and refrain from exerting pressure on Israel to give up its nuclear status. The Obama administration repeated the same behavior however particularly of late, the Middle Eastern countries have been questioning the US special treatment nuclear Israel.
The ever prevailing ambiguity of Israeli nuclear program and hesitancy to sign the NPT are two major issues which have become a hurdle to create a consensus between liberal Osama’s administration and rightist Israeli leaders. This nuclear posture of neither confirming nor denying has always been keeping Israel at an arm’s length from becoming a part of global disarmament regime.
But recent refusal of Israel to attend the nuclear summit not only refreshed the controversial status of non-signatory nuclear states to NPT but it also inaugurated a debate of futility of Obama’s mission of nuclear free world. Israel refused to sign the NPT because it does not serve its best interests and jeopardize country’s security. On 11 December 1981 Shalheveth Freier an Israeli representative to the UN claimed that the NPT is an inadequate guarantee for Israel and would undermine country’s nuclear posture. Therefore, Israeli leaders maintained that the Israeli refusal to sign the NPT provides security to Israeli nuclear weapons and its policy of deliberate ambiguity.
Now ironically, both Israel and the US are seeking opportunities to curtail the nuclear program of Iran, which is a signatory to NPT. Israel’s disarmament policy is directly linked to Iranian and other regional state’s nuclear ambitions. Indeed, Ehud Barak and Dan Meridor have been strongly advocating the issues to counter nuclear Iran and Syria in the Washington summit and to demolish their nuclear aspirations. In other words, nuclear armed Israel is using their American card to face the Iran’s nuclear program as a strategic threat. But the unanswered question for the Obama administration is why it is so keen on restricting nuclear development of Iran and while quiet on Israeli nuclear program and stance.
In future, Israeli refusal to participate in the NPT and its aggressive stance on its covert nuclear program will undermine Obama’s vision to develop momentum for wider disarmament. If Israel will not talk about its nuclear status on the negotiation table then this will adversely impact the dialogue on non-proliferation. Obama’s mission is to reduce the nuclear threats while developing political confidence in dealing with global nuclear insecurities. However, sidelining the Israeli nuclear debate whilst laying great stress on the EU and China to impose tougher sanctions on Iran for its peaceful nuclear program, continues to be misplaced.
Attiq-ur-Rehman is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at the University of Quaid-i Azam, Islamabad, Pakistan. He also holds a Masters of Philosophy degree in Defense and Security Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University and a Masters in Politics and International Relations from International Islamic University of Islamabad, Pakistan.
(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of POLITACT.)