Savir's Corner: A nuclear free zone

"The Iranian development of a military nuclear capability is the single most dangerous threat to Israel’s security."

Ahmadinejad 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ahmadinejad 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Iranian development of a military nuclear capability is the single most dangerous threat to Israel’s security.
Given Western and especially American reluctance to impose major sanctions on Iran, specifically regarding its oil exports, along with the general reluctance to engage Iran militarily, we can assume that in the years to come, Iran will become a nuclear power.
Given the positions of the American administration and of our own military establishment, present and past, as well as the futility of such action without a broad coalition of forces, an Israeli military “onecountry show” is most probably out of the question, despite the adventurist appetite of our defense minister and perhaps even of the prime minister himself.
And yet, it is a truism that a fanatic regime such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s should not be allowed to go nuclear. It would be dangerous not just to Israel but to our whole region, if not the world.
As everything done in the past decade has failed to curb the Iranian ambition, we must think about an effective and innovative diplomatic initiative. The premise should be that Iran will go nuclear before 2015 and that in the wake of this, other Middle Eastern and Muslim countries will go nuclear as well, for reasons of deterrence and to create a new regional balance of power. The candidates to join during this decade a Middle East nuclear or nonconventional weapons “club” are primarily Saudi Arabia – which could acquire nuclear weapons with petrol dollars; Egypt, which in the post-Mubarak era will want to regain its leading role in the Arab world; a post- Assad Syria that already today most probably has chemical weaponry; and Turkey, which will feel threatened by Iran, and under Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking regional primacy.
The Middle East would thus become fertile ground for nonconventional confrontation, a scenario that can not be ruled out.
The United States under Barack Obama is advocating an assertive, although not yet successful, global anti-proliferation policy. Israel needs to think realistically of its national security interests and engage in a comprehensive strategic dialogue with the US, about a courageous and creative initiative to prevent doomsday scenarios. The fact that Israel has the best army in the region is of small solace in a world where even the successors of Osama bin Laden could eventually acquire nonconventional weapons. It is therefore proposed that we should at the very least explore with the United States an international initiative to create in the Middle East a verifiable nuclear free zone. The basic assumption being that the region will in the future be either fully nuclear or nuclear-free.
There is a history to this initiative – in April 1990, then-president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt called at the UN for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. Israel’s approach to the initiative was not negative. We adopted the central elements of the initiative, as was expressed by then-foreign minister Shimon Peres in a speech to the international conference in Paris on the signing of chemical weapons conventions in 1994, but conditioned it on the prior establishment of comprehensive regional peace and the application of mutual verification measures. This approach was reiterated as part of the Israeli official position in the arms control and regional security committee of the multilateral peace process. As peace did not materialize, neither did the initiative.
Today we should revisit this position, in tandem with the United States, yet insist it depend on rigid conditions:
• A Middle East free of nuclear and nonconventional arms can only begin to be realized once comprehensive regional peace is achieved, including diplomatic relations between all Arab countries and Israel.
• A regional “free zone” must include Iran and Turkey, and terror organizations in all of the countries.
• A regional free zone should be based on a new Regional Nuclear and Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Middle East Convention, signed and ratified by all countries and implemented within two years. All countries, including Israel, should then sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
• A regional free zone must be internationally verifiable not only by the International Atomic Energy Agency but also by the US government.
• Parallel to such a convention, Israel and the United States should sign a joint defense pact, safeguarding Israel’s security and technological edge.
Naturally such an initiative can materialize only if a regional peace process materializes, beginning with a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in which our government must finally engage by agreeing to the 1967 lines as a basis for negotiation (including mutually agreed land swaps) and a settlement freeze.
If in the background of such a process there stands an American initiative for a nuclear free Middle East, it would serve a strong incentive for the Arab nations to move in parallel to the Israeli-Palestinian process towards regional peace with Israel.
This may sound far-fetched, yet we must remember that in 1995, before Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, we stood at such a point – an agreement and a peace process with the Palestinians, a peace treaty with Jordan and a multilateral peace process. In parallel, Israel articulated a positive attitude towards the Egyptian initiative for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, conditioned on regional peace and effective verification.
Many in Israel miss the better days of the mid-’90 with their hope for peace, strong international stature and a growing economy. The year 2015 could see a return to this. The alternative is a 2015 without peace, without international support and a Middle East and Iran with stockpiles of nuclear weaponry. It is not only for us to decide, but it is for us to initiate, in full agreement with the American administration.
It is not a coincidence that in perhaps our most important peace treaty, the one reached with Jordan in 1994, article 4(7) states: “The Parties, Israel and Jordan, undertake to work as a matter of priority towards the creation of a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction, both conventional and nonconventional, in the context of a comprehensive, lasting and stable peace.”
As Rabin and King Hussein understood, peace and a nuclear free zone can go hand in hand in order to strengthen the moderates and weaken the extremists. This should be our strategic priority.

The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.