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Boy, do those Egyptians know how to spoil a party. On Saturday, after Israel lobbied for years to get the Iranian nuclear dossier to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) finally did just that.
But Jerusalem, thanks to Cairo, was not able to enjoy even a moment's satisfaction.
The 27-paragraph resolution that censured Iran for its "many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with" its Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) safeguards, and which sent the matter to the UN, also included one paragraph that was an oblique reference to Israel and its own alleged nuclear capabilities.
Paragraph "m" stipulated that the IAEA board of governors recognize "that a solution to the Iranian issue would contribute to global nonproliferation efforts and to realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery."
There you have it.
After trying so hard to stay out of the Iranian nuclear issue - to cast it as an international problem, not an Israeli-Iranian one - the issue goes to the UN with a clause clearly directed at Israel. This is similar to the Muslim world dragging Israel into the whole Muhammad cartoon crisis by getting back at the West with a cartoon on an Arab Web site depicting Anne Frank in bed with Hitler. Not the Jews' fight, yet the Jews inevitably get dragged in.
Diplomatic officials and academics said the insertion of the WMD-free Middle East clause was a great example of diplomatic horse-trading between Egypt and the US.
Emily Landau, director of the arms control and regional security project at Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said that since the 1970s - when Cairo became convinced that Israel had developed a nuclear option - Egypt has consistently placed pressure on the world to take actions against these capabilities.
The pressure was stepped up in the 1980s, when Egypt itself joined the NPT, effectively giving up its own nuclear ambitions, and concluding that the best way now to deal with Israel's capabilities was to get it to disarm. Once the Madrid framework set up the arms control and regional security working group, the Egyptians placed the issue high on the regional and international agenda.
It was clear, therefore, that the issue would arise in all the discussions about a nuclear Iran. And Cairo saw a good opportunity to promote it in the IAEA resolution.
The US, which, along with Israel, has long-favored sending the Iran brief to the UN, wanted as wide a consensus as possible on this matter among the IAEA 35-member Board of Governors, and was especially keen on securing a positive vote from Egypt because of the country's powerful standing in the Arab world. The idea was to show that even the Arab world was opposed to Iranian nuclear capacity.
The final clause in the resolution dealing with a WMD-free Middle East, however, was a watered-down version of what the Egyptians wanted originally, which was a direct reference to Israel.
In the end, the measure passed by a of 27-3 vote, with Syria, Cuba and Venezuela voting against, and Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya and South Africa all abstaining. In addition to Egypt, Yemen was the only other Arab or Islamic state voting for the measure.
Landau pointed out that, from an Israeli perspective, it was good that the final clause that was inserted referred to weapons of mass destruction, and not only nuclear arms. A number of other countries in the region, specifically Syria, are believed to have chemical or biological weapons, which Israel - theoretically - would like to have included in a future ban, while Israel is the only power in the region believed to have nuclear capabilities.
ISRAEL'S FORMAL position is that it is also in favor of a WMD-free Middle East. Indeed, who could be opposed?
But Jerusalem's argument has always been that the time is not right, and that discussions on this matter must take place after the lion lies down with the lamb, or after Israel has signed peace agreements with all the states in the region, including Iran.
In the mid-1990s, when this issue was all the rage in the Madrid-based arms-proliferation working group, then-foreign minister Shimon Peres even placed a time frame on when serious talks about a WMD-free Middle East could occur - two years after the final peace agreement with Israel's last neighbor was signed.
Israel's stance in the meantime, especially with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rubbing his hands and talking of a world without Israel, is that it is completely unrealistic to talk about nuclear disarmament now.
Which raises the following questions: Is the reference to this matter in the resolution dealing with Iran a step back? Will it once again focus attention on Israel? Is it the beginning of a slippery slope that will culminate in heavy pressure on Israel to dismantle its alleged atomic arsenal?
Neither Landau nor a colleague of hers at JSS, Ephraim Asculai, thinks so.
Asculai, a 40-year veteran of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission who now researches WMD proliferation issues, said that although it was a mistake to link Israel and the Iranian resolution, the paragraph in question has no "practical or operative significance."
Landau was even more emphatic.
"I don't think that it should be interpreted as something that will lead to pressure on Israel on the nuclear issue," she said.
On the contrary, Landau said the Iranian issue - coupled with Ahmadinejad's outbursts - have actually strengthened Israel's case for nuclear deterrence.
"There is now a great deal of empathy for Israel due to the special security situation it faces," she said. "The Iranian dynamic has strengthened this, given justification to Israel's argument that it is in a very problematic situation. When you are talking about a state that has nuclear aspirations and has repeatedly said that Israel should be wiped off the map, I think it has an impact and has strengthened the feeling that Israel has a case."
Ahmadinejad's statements, she said, also have helped Israel's image in the eyes of the world as a supremely reasonable, responsible and cautious nuclear power. In this she echoed what a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said recently: that Ahmadinejad, as well as the mayhem following the Danish cartoon lampooning of Muhammad, are huge Israeli public relations assets, giving the world an indication of the forces lined up against it.
THAT THE Iranian nuclear issue would ultimately spotlight Israel was not something unexpected. Indeed, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in a briefing with The Jerusalem Post in August, said that US President George W. Bush's famous letter from April 2004 also included a line pledging US commitment to Israel's deterrence capacity.
In that letter, which states that in a final agreement with the Palestinians, the US would back Israel's position on Palestinian refugees not being allowed to return to Israel, and that it does recognize that there have been changes on the ground that need to be taken into consideration when drawing the final borders, there is also one line - largely overlooked - which Sharon was always found of mentioning.
This line reads, "The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel's security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel's capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats."
Sharon interpreted this as a US promise to back Israel when there were attempts - which he believed there would be - to dismantle what he called "Israel's deterrence ability."
In the said briefing, Sharon pointed out that international pressure pushed the Libyans into abandoning their nuclear ambitions, and would also ultimately move the Iranian issue to the UN . Once this happened, he said, certain "countries would be looking at us, and there could be pressure."
Which is why he pushed for the inclusion of that one line in the Bush letter - a line that on the face of it seems innocuous, but which he termed "very important."
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