With relations between Washington and Jerusalem already severely strained, the
outcome of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference late last month
was more bad news.
In a surprise move, the Obama administration accepted
most of the Egyptian plan that seeks to impose its version of a Middle East
nuclear weapons-free zone (MENWFZ).
Negotiations, and thus intense
pressure on Israel, are set to begin in 2012, according to the agreed
This outcome undermines 40 years of quiet Israeli exceptionality
with respect to nuclear weapons.
In theory, a MENWFZ is a good idea, and
for many years such international gatherings have endorsed the concept,
support from Egypt, Iran and Israel. But each state supports a very
approach for how to achieve this goal.
For Israel, the idea of a MENWFZ
without the prerequisite peace agreements, an end of conflict with all
opponents, including Iran, and mutual, rather than global inspection, is
nonstarter. In contrast, for Egypt, its partners in the Arab League and
the goal is to isolate Israel internationally, and to eventually force
surrender of its undeclared “weapon of last resort.” Egypt and the
no problem with the thin system of nuclear inspections run by the
Atomic Energy Agency, which took far too long to find and publish Iran’s
violations, and was unaware of Syria’s secret North Korean facility.
for Israeli security, this is another nonstarter.
IN THE recent NPT review
conference in New York, as in past rounds, Egypt, Iran and the other
again demanded that the US choose between accepting their position or
failed conference. In previous cases, the US forced Egypt to abandon
most of its
plans, and in some instances allowed for dispersal without agreement.
time, however, the Obama administration decided that the goal of
world free of nuclear weapons could not be squared with failed
Although Obama and other officials attempted to distance
themselves from the outcome a few hours after supporting it, this was
not at all
Once again, the White House appears to be either incompetent
or duplicitous in its repeated claims of guaranteeing Israeli
Thus, the 2010 NPT review conference ended with a significant
victory for Egypt and Iran, and a sharp setback for Israeli policy.
Israel is not an NPT signatory and has not violated any agreements or
commitments (unlike Iran, Libya and Syria), it was singled out for
condemnation in the final declaration.
In blatant contrast, Iran and
Syria, which have been caught violating their treaty commitments by
nuclear weapons, were not even mentioned.
In addition, the US decision to
support Egypt’s demand for a UN special coordinator on these issues adds
pressure. This special envoy’s primary activity will be to highlight
until now been an almost invisible Israeli nuclear deterrent.
will also complicate the pursuit of peace agreements. History and logic
demonstrate that efforts to press Israel to take simultaneous risks on
territory (in peace talks) and on the “last resort” deterrent end in
The center-right majority and the coalition elected last year are
consider territorial withdrawal as part of a two-state solution.
security risks are considerable, involving the loss of the already very
buffers that have provided protection since 1967. In such scenarios, the
leadership, without exception, as well as public opinion polls,
show support for maintaining the unspoken but omnipresent “ultimate
to guarantee national survival.
By failing to support Israel’s unique
position, Washington has effectively undermined this guarantee and has
highlighted the existing concerns regarding the credibility of America’s
commitment to Israel’s survival.
The outcome of the latest NPT review
session will result in even greater reluctance to take major risks for
While the Obama administration’s goals of a non- (or at
least less)-nuclear world reflect good intentions, its acquiescence to
conference’s final document is likely to be counterproductive. Rather
preserving the already slim chances for slow progress toward a Middle
Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, the more likely outcome is an all-out Middle
nuclear arms race.
Gerald Steinberg is a member of the
department at Bar-Ilan University, and David Leitner is completing his
in this faculty.
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