Clarity, ambiguity

The problem is not that we are too clear when we are supposed to be ambiguous, but too ambiguous when we are supposed to be clear.

natanz 88 (photo credit: )
natanz 88
(photo credit: )
In what seems to be another uncalculated slip, Ariel Levite, the deputy director-general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, on Sunday openly labeled Israel as a nuclear "threshold state." Levite, surveying the history of nuclear proliferation at the Herzliya Conference, spoke about what he called the "second nuclear age," between 1967 and 1989. During this period, Levite said, the international community managed to limit the spread of nuclear weapons to five powers (US, USSR, Britain, France, and China), but there was a "crawling forward ... as a result of which three threshold states presented themselves, which remain outside the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]: India, Pakistan, and Israel." Ambiguity, it seems, is not our strong suit. We assume this was a slip, since Levite later claimed to have been describing what the world believes, rather than confirming Israel's reported nuclear status. Similarly, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claimed that he had not changed our policy of nuclear ambiguity when he, in a recent interview to to a German publication, listed Israel among the world's nuclear powers. It is disturbing when our officials cannot seem to abide by a long-standing policy, or alternatively, decide in an orderly way to change that policy. Such mistakes are embarrassing, and add to the sense that our government suffers from a lack of basic competence. The more serious problem, however, is not that we are too clear when we are supposed to be ambiguous, but too ambiguous when we must be clear. Also at Herzliya, Binyamin Netanyahu said: "The world that did not stop the Holocaust last time can stop it this time if they divest from genocide. ... Who will lead the effort against genocide if not us? The world will not stand up on behalf of the Jews if the Jews do not stand up on behalf of the world." Exactly right. There is nothing wrong with continuing to make the point that Iran's threat is not just to Israel, but to the world. There is something wrong with waiting for the world to take action, without taking basic legal measures to defend ourselves against an aggressor nation. Israel must lead an international campaign to indict Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for committing the crime of incitement to genocide, a crime explicitly punishable under the Genocide Convention. The Iranian regime openly denies the Holocaust, for the purpose of removing what it claims is Israel's sole basis for existence. Iranian leaders openly call for "wiping Israel off the map" and speculate that Iran can absorb a nuclear attack while Israel cannot. If such statements, combined with a race to achieve the means to carry them out, are not incitement to genocide, what is? If it is any consolation, it is not just Israel that fails to use basic international tools in its own self-defense. Iran has been heavily supporting terrorist militias that are being used to render Iraq ungovernable, subjugate Lebanon, attack Israel on two fronts, and ensure that no peace process can ensue between Israelis and Palestinians. All this is well known, yet neither the US nor Israel have demanded that a "terrorism file" be opened against Iran in the UN Security Council, as if Iran's nuclear program is the regime's only sanctionable activity. Though implemented by proxy, all of this activity is international aggression par excellence, of exactly the sort that the UN Charter was designed to punish. The UN has been doggedly investigating Syria's involvement in the assassinations of Rafik Hariri and Pierre Gemayel. Why is it not being tasked to investigate Iranian support for terrorism? In theory, it is the obligation of virtually all states to enforce the Genocide Convention and the UN Charter. Iran is so far enjoying an effective global pass on the nuclear issue and a resounding diplomatic silence on its support for terrorism and incitement to genocide. If this continues, the Iranian regime is demonstrating that the US and Israel are more diplomatically isolated and impotent than it is. Inaction will not hide this fact nor ameliorate its consequences. Under its current regime, Iran must become no less of a pariah state than was South Africa under apartheid. Israel should not shy away from becoming the state most actively pressing for this, since no nation will press harder than we do. Like it or not, we set the standard for action - or for doing nothing.