A Nuclear-Weapons-Free Middle East: It's Time for Israel to Disarm
September 15, 2015
Alex Kane / Al Jazeera America & Mustafa Kibaroglu / The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
It's September in New York: the start of a diplomatic marathon at the United Nations that will no doubt bring renewed attention to Israel's nuclear weapons stockpile. Each year since 1974, the UN General Assembly has passed a resolution calling for the Middle East to become a nuclear-weapons-free-zone. The American policy of shielding Israel's nuclear weapons continues to be the main obstacle to nuclear disarmament in the region.
It's Time for Israel to Disarm
A nuke-free Israel will create a more stable Middle East
Alex Kane / Al Jazeera America
(September 14, 2015) -- It's September in New York: the start of a diplomatic marathon that will no doubt bring renewed attention to Israel's nuclear weapons stockpile.
Since 1974, the United Nations General Assembly has passed a laudable Egyptian-sponsored resolution calling for the Middle East to become a nuclear weapons free zone each year. Starting five years later, the UN began repeatedly passing an Egyptian-authored resolution calling on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, under which it would disarm and place its nuclear materials under international inspection.
But these resolutions are nonbinding, and the leading Arab state's calls to focus on Israel's arsenal of at least 80 nuclear warheads are usually ignored by Western powers.
That reality is unlikely to change this year. But it should.
The July signing of the Iran nuclear accord is certain to produce political clashes at the UN. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won't be able to resist railing against the deal in front of the world.
But the expected focus on the Iranian nuclear program makes the UN General Assembly, which opens its 70th session on Tuesday, the perfect opportunity to probe another nuclear program in the Middle East -- one that has actually produced a weapon, unlike Iran's.
The Iran accord, which curbs the country's nuclear enrichment program in exchange for sanctions relief, was a victory for advocates of nuclear disarmament. It blocks the Islamic Republic's ability to build a nuclear weapon, making the world, especially the Middle East, a safer place.
A probe of Israeli warheads, on the other hand, has been delayed by the United States for too long. But it's an issue that needs to be taken up to avoid dangerous tensions, setbacks to nuclear disarmament and other states in the region pursuing their own nuclear and chemical weapons programs.
It is now Israel's turn to renounce nuclear arms, as Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif argued in a July column for The Guardian. Of course, Zarif wants to score points against a state that has long railed against virtually any move Iran makes, be it political or military. But his main point -- that the Middle East would be safer without nuclear weapons -- is sound.
At the very least, Israel -- which neither denies nor acknowledges the existence of its stockpile -- should join the majority of the world in signing the Nuclear-Non Proliferation Treaty. That could be the first step towards reducing regional tensions over the issue and paving the path towards a Middle East free of atomic bombs.
So far, the United States has effectively prevented meaningful action to enable a nuclear weapons free zone. In fact, US officials won't even talk about the existence of Israel's nukes. When journalist Helen Thomas asked President Barack Obama about Israel's arsenal in 2009, he responded, "With respect to nuclear weapons, you know, I don't want to speculate."
And at the May Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference, the US prevented the release of a statement calling for a UN-led conference on establishing a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. The American policy of shielding Israel's nuclear weapons continues to be the main obstacle to nuclear disarmament in the region.
The lack of US attention to Israel's weaponry, and the amount of attention devoted to Iran's program is a glaring double standard -- especially by a country whose leader called for a world without nuclear weapons in a 2009 speech in Prague.
The US stance also ignores history. The historical record shows that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein wanted nuclear weapons as a deterrent to Israel's nuclear program. Syria developed chemical weapons as a deterrent against Israel's nuclear capabilities.
Today, with Syria and Iraq in terminal internal chaos, there is no chemical or nuclear threat to Israel. But as the Arab revolts proved, change can occur rapidly in the Middle East. A future with Israeli nuclear weapons will continue to destabilize the region.
There is no sign that the US is about to change its policy on Israel's nuclear capabilities. But as Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, said in an interview, "in the future, possibly, you're going to have a scenario where other countries have to agree to the same things the Iranians agreed to" in their nuclear accord.
Placing Israel's nuclear warheads under an international inspection regime, and moving towards disarmament, is a chance to make the Middle East, and the world, a more secure place. It should not be such a long shot.
Alex Kane is a New York–based freelance journalist and a former editor for Mondoweiss and AlterNet.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.
Nuclear Weapons: Not Taboo Enough
Mustafa Kibaroglu / The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
(August 6, 2015) -- I wish I could argue that the world had properly absorbed the lessons of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Unfortunately, I must argue the opposite.
Why? First and foremost, large numbers of people around the world believe that dropping the atomic bombs -- regardless of how catastrophic the consequences were for the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- saved lives, perhaps millions of them, by bringing World War II to a prompt conclusion.
But history doesn't substantiate this point of view. Japan had already lost much ground in the Asia-Pacific region. Europe's fascist regimes had fallen; the war had ended in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East; and Japan was left to fight its enemies alone.
Under such circumstances the Japanese Empire couldn't have prolonged the war much longer in any case. As Dwight Eisenhower put it, "[T]he Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."
Second, no one was taken to court as a result of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and this has had a profound impact on how the bombings are perceived. German and Japanese war criminals faced the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals, but a man such as General Curtis LeMay -- whose air force burned cities from one end of Japan to the other, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians even before Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- faced no such justice. "If we'd lost the war,"
LeMay later said, "we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals." But the United States did not lose the war, and in the decades since there hasn't been enough debate about the legality of the bombings. As a result, nuclear weapons have gained a certain legitimacy.
Third, members of the nuclear club -- the United States and Russia, for example -- have sometimes issued nuclear threats in order to achieve policy goals. The goals have ranged from deterring adversaries' military operations to effecting regime change.
Unfortunately, threats such as these can convince national leaders that preserving their regimes requires establishing a nuclear deterrent -- as has been the case with North Korea. But then, leaders throughout history have wanted to acquire the most powerful weapons of their era. Thus it is difficult to maintain optimism about prospects for the nonproliferation regime over the coming decades.
Finally, practitioners of international relations often treat nuclear deterrence as if it were indisputable fact. According to a common telling of Cold War history, the United States and the Soviet Union were forced by mutual assured destruction and one another's second-strike capability to exercise restraint.
This prevented crises from erupting into dangerous conflicts. But the conditions that prevailed in that era were highly peculiar.
For example, the most populated areas of the United States and Soviet Union were separated by enormous distances. If either side had launched a nuclear attack, the other side would have had time to launch a reprisal. This indeed made deterrence fairly reliable. What international security analysts often fail to recognize is that deterrence is less reliable in a compact region such as the Middle East.
Also, in that highly volatile region and elsewhere, hatreds between nations are sometimes so intense that, if certain leaders had nuclear weapons at their disposal, they might have used them already -- regardless of the consequences (even to themselves).
Many people have not internalized the tragedy that befell the Japanese people with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and likewise they sometimes lack empathy for fellow human beings in rival nations.
The international community has made concerted, elaborate efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation. But technology for building nuclear weapons continues to spread.
The possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorist organizations with apocalyptic views can by no means be disregarded. I fear that seven more decades will not elapse without the wartime detonation of a nuclear weapon.
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