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(photo credit: AP)
On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Washington and Cairo were negotiating a proposal to turn the Middle East into “a region free of nuclear weapons.” Considering the fact that Israel is, reportedly, the only country in the Middle East with a nuclear capability, this would mean that the US had agreed to discuss with Egypt putting pressure on Israel to disarm itself of nuclear warheads.
US officials quoted in the report said Israel had been assured that the “nuclear-free zone” would not be foisted upon the region until all parties agreed to it, but added that the move to enter negotiations with 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.
On Monday, at the UN’s Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed the wider ambition: “We want to reaffirm our commitment to the objective of a Middle East free of these weapons of mass destruction, and we are prepared to support practical measures that will move us toward achieving that objective.”
Washington’s reported willingness to meet with Egyptian representatives over the matter of a nuclear free Israel would seem to be an extension of President Barak Obama’s engagement policy with the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims.
Underpinning this strategy is a belief that dialogue and outreach can often accomplish more than sanctions or military actions. Ratcheting down the war of words and fostering conciliation worked for president Richard Nixon in 1972 with Beijing, runs the apparent thinking, and it must be pursued now with Teheran’s mullahs.
This policy also evidently incorporates a tougher line on Israel, perhaps as part of an attempt to improve relations with Muslim nations by showing that America is willing to play hardball with the Jewish nation.
As John Bolton, US ambassador to the UN under the second Bush administration, pointed out Tuesday morning on Army Radio, Obama’s willingness to so much as entertain the notion of pressuring Israel to abandon its nuclear capability marks a radical change in US foreign policy.
“In the Bush administration we refused to even talk about these things,” said Bolton, adding that the fact that Washington had agreed to negotiate with Egypt played into the hands of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After all, there is nothing that Iran’s leader would like more than to shift the focus not merely of the current review conference in New York, but of the entire international climate, from Iran’s nuclear program to Israel’s.
The dangerous impression being created is of a nuclear-capable Israel being 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 rapacious Shi’ite fanatics that openly persecutes homosexuals, promotes misogyny, brutally puts down political protest and shammed its last elections.
Not many fair-minded people, including in this region, have lost sleep over the fact that responsible Israel reportedly has nuclear warheads. Much of this region is profoundly panicked by the specter of a nuclear Iran.
Preventing this is the single most important challenge that faces the Obama administration. If we take Ahmadinejad’s statements at face value, and there is no reason why we should not, he wants to “wipe Israel off the map,” and to focus, too, on the “big Satan” America.
Among other immediate and dire repercussions for Israel, fear of an
Iranian nuclear attack could effectively paralyze the IDF in the face
of Iran’s Hamas and Hizbullah proxies. Were Iran’s nuclear program to
reach fruition, it would also quickly exercise its benighted influence
throughout this region, notably on the Gulf states, including imposing
control over the Straits of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the
world’s seaborne oil shipments pass.
IT SHOULD be crystal clear that, instead of allowing Egypt to sidetrack
it with talk of disarming Israel, the US should focus on galvanizing
the international community to stop Iran.
Glibly calling for a “nuclear free Middle East” blurs the moral
distinctions between the hegemonic designs of that messianic,
apocalyptic regime and the essential deterrent and defensive needs of
our small, embattled democracy. The Obama administration should be
commended for attempting to reach out to the Muslim world, but it
should not be blinded to its own and its allies’ interests when the
response, as with Iran, is ruthless and uncompromising. And it must
stop at nothing to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.