In yet another anti-Israel vote backed by an overwhelming majority, the UN General Assembly singled out Israel – not Iran or Syria – for supposedly violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In a 174-6 with six abstentions, the General Assembly called on Israel Monday to join the NPT “without further delay,” and to open its nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The US, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau deserve praise for once again standing by Israel. The Obama administration, however, deviated from previous US governments by voting in favor of two paragraphs in the resolution that were put to a separate vote.

Both support universal adherence to the NPT – including in the Middle East – and call on those countries that are not parties to it to ratify the treaty “at the earliest date.” The only “no” votes on those paragraphs were cast by Israel and India.

The Obama administration has already articulated a problematic stance on nonproliferation in the Middle East that deviates from that of both the Bush and the Clinton administrations. The most striking example was Washington’s decision in May 2010 to join 188 other nations in singling out Israel’s purported nuclear capability for special censure while completely ignoring Iran.

At the end of a month-long review conference of the four-decade-old NPT, which takes place every five years, the signatories of the treaty agreed to put pressure on Israel to abandon its policy of nuclear ambiguity, under which we neither confirm nor deny having a nuclear capability. US officials reportedly assured Israel at the time that a “nuclear-free zone” would not be foisted upon the region, while adding that the US’s agreement to acquiesce to the initiative – spearheaded by Egypt – would help defuse criticism of America’s “unfair” policy of ignoring Israel’s purported nuclear arsenal while singling out for censure countries such as Syria or Iran.

In addition, the NPT signatories called at the time to hold a conference this year that would seek ways to rid the Middle East of nuclear weapons. The conference was to be attended by members of the NPT review conference, which, as in the UN system, lends wholly disproportionate numerical weight to the dozens of developing, quasi-democratic nations of Africa, Asia and South and Central America – including almost 50 Muslim states – that make up the 118-strong Non-Aligned Movement. Invariably, the conference’s focus would be a denunciation of Israel, the only country in the region said to have atomic warheads.

Thankfully, at the end of last month the US canceled the conference, which was slated to take place this month in Helsinki. Unfortunately, the reason given by the US for the cancellation was unrest in Gaza, Syria and Egypt – not the fact that the conference would deteriorate into an Israelbashing fest. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton noted with “regret” the “postponement” of the conference and “hopes that the Conference will be convened as soon as possible.” British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt also said the conference was being postponed, not canceled.

The dangerous impression that the US is allowing to be created is that a nuclear capable Israel can be equated with a nuclear capable Iran – an approach that fails to make the distinction between Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy, and Iran, a despotic regime run by Shi’ite fanatics that openly persecutes homosexuals, promotes misogyny, brutally puts down political protest and shammed its last elections.

Now is not the time to devote international energies to coercing Israel into ending its four-decades of nuclear ambiguity – maintained responsibly even during the 1973 Yom Kippur War when Israel was on the verge of being overrun by the combined armies of the Arab nations.

Doing so detracts from efforts to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and plunging the region into a destabilizing nuclear arms race.

Perhaps the day will come when Israel’s neighbors will recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist and agree to live in peace with it. Until regional peace is attained, however, Israel must rely on deterrence.

Glibly calling for a “nuclear-free Middle East” ignores the predicament of Israel, a country built on the ashes of the Holocaust, and blurs the moral distinctions between the hegemonic designs of Tehran’s messianic, apocalyptic regime that repeatedly declares its intention to “wipe Israel off the map,” and the essential deterrent and defensive needs of a small democracy surrounded by enemies.

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