Nuclear official to ‘Post’: Israel will ratify CTBT

Lassina Zerbo says the question of Israel’s ratification of ban on nuclear testing is "not if, but when."

June 20, 2016 19:52
3 minute read.
A nuclear test explosion from April 1954 is shown in this undatelined photo from the Pentagon

A nuclear test explosion from April 1954 is shown in this undatelined photo from the US Defense Department. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Despite longstanding Israeli policy not to ratify a treaty banning nuclear tests, Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), said Monday he was optimistic Israel would in fact ratify the agreement.

"It is not a matter of if, but when," Zerbo, who is currently visiting Israel, told The Jerusalem Post. He said his push to have the Middle East ratify the CTBT is part of trying to “take aim at the moon” before reaching for the stars of a nuclear-free zone.

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What is the difference between a nuclear free zone in the Middle East and your idea of Nuclear Free Test Zone?

The idea of a nuclear test free zone in the Middle East is a step to establish a dialogue, to help move forward on the establishment of a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East. If there is any low-hanging fruit in the realm of nuclear arms control, it is the CTBT. Rather than trying to reach the stars – after all, prospects for a WMD-free zone in this region seem very far away right now – let’s take aim at the moon.

Israel and Egypt and Iran signed the CTBT but did not ratify it – so the Middle East is already free of nuclear tests. Why is there a need to create a special zone for the Middle East?

We know a Middle East WMD-free-zone has stalled. It continues to be one of the chief challenges in the NPT [non proliferation treaty] process. I see such a zone taking shape through joint ratification of the CTBT by Egypt, Israel and Iran. All have signed the treaty, so ratification does not require any policy u-turns. And it would help build much-needed confidence among the main regional actors. Should Israel move ahead with ratification, other countries in the region would be left with no excuse not to follow suit”

How can you convince those three countries to ratify?

Already now, the CTBT has established a taboo against nuclear testing that reduces the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Israel has nothing to lose but much to gain by ratifying the CTBT. The CTBT’s entry into force would activate powerful on-site inspections, leaving no chance to hide a nuclear explosion. International action against violators would be swift and unanimous.

Why haven’t they ratified it then?

There are a number of reasons, but it is important to note that none are rooted in the treaty itself or its no-test norm, but regional policy considerations. This makes me hopeful that a concerted diplomatic push, as we saw for the Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, has a realistic chance of advancing the CTBT in the region. A first step towards ratifying could be an agreement between all countries in the Middle East to allow us to establish and operate the monitoring stations planned in the region.

What are the chances Israel will ratify it sometime soon?

The question of Israel’s ratification is not a matter of if, but when. I’m encouraged by the attention and focus that Israel’s highest political leaders and science experts are giving to the treaty. Netanyahu has said he is proud of Israel’s signature on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and considers it to be very significant treaty. I firmly believe that Israeli leadership on the CTBT is a vital step toward increasing regional stability and global security. I will work tirelessly to create the necessary confidence for Israel to ratify the treaty.

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