Obama's Dangerous Game with Israel

The Obama administration is stepping up the pressure on the new Israeli government before a critical meeting between the president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on May 18.

In the wake of comments made by influential National Security Adviser Jim Jones (the de facto secretary of state, in my opinion) to a European foreign minister that America will take a more "forceful hand"  towards Israel than previous administrations, comes a new riposte to show that the State Department refuses to be one-upped by the NSC when it comes to dealing with Israel:

Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state and America's chief nuclear arms negotiator, has called on Israel (along with Pakistan, India, and North Korea) to sign the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). By including Israel on a list of nations known to either have nuclear weapons or be close to acquiring them (North Korea), Gottemoeller broke with a decades old diplomatic policy of America. Since the late 1960s, America has pursued a policy of not demanding transparency from Israel and, in return, Israel agreed not to test a bomb or declare that it had developed a bomb. This policy was known as "strategic ambiguity."

The call on Israel to sign the NNPT also has put in jeopardy a secret U.S.-Israel accord, writes Eli Lake in the Washington Times:

President Obama's efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons threaten to expose and derail a 40-year-old secret U.S. agreement to shield Israel's nuclear weapons from international scrutiny, former and current U.S. and Israeli officials and nuclear specialists say.

For the past 40 years, Israel and the U.S. have kept quiet about an Israeli nuclear arsenal that is now estimated at 80 to 200 weapons. Israel has promised not to test nuclear weapons while the U.S. has not pressed Israel to sign the nuclear NPT, which permits only five countries -- the U.S., France, Britain, China and Russia -- to have nuclear arms.

The U.S. also has opposed most regional calls for a "nuclear-free Middle East." The accord was forged at a summit between Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and President Nixon on Sept. 25, 1969, according to recently released documents, but remains so secret that there is no explicit record of it. Mr. Cohen has referred to the deal as "don't ask, don't tell," because it commits both the U.S. and Israel never to acknowledge in public Israel's nuclear arsenal.

The policy has worked well. Israel's rumored arsenal serves as a deterrent for those enemies who would employ weapons of mass destruction against her, given that the nation arose from the ashes of the Holocaust and is surrounded by enemies who would like nothing better than to stage a sequel to that horror. Her possession of such weapons has been judged a vital strategic interest (was this why Saddam Hussein did not place poison gas on the rockets he bombarded Israel with during the Gulf War?).

Neighboring nations did not feel the need to embark on their own programs, nor has this been an issue for the international community. This is because Israel is a Western democracy, allied with America, and could be trusted with such weapons. Israeli leaders have never broadcast their desire to destroy their neighbors, nor have they ever harbored and nurtured apocalyptic desires to bring about Armageddon -- as does Iran's president.

At the same time, Israel has declared that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons (and by logical extension, any weapons of mass destruction) in the region.  Such a weapon is best left sheathed.

American presidents have appreciated Israeli's need for such a posture -- and its need not to fall under the control of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. That treaty would lead to very intrusive investigation of Israel's nuclear program. Should nuclear weapons be found, Israel would be under severe pressure to relinquish them. Given that the International Atomic Energy Agency, like all United Nations agencies, is dominated by anti-Israel nations, this would be a foregone conclusion. Israel would be stripped of the very weapons she deems necessary to ensure her survival.

So why the change now?

There is a pattern emerging that this administration intends to use tools at its disposal to pressure Israel to follow America's lead in the region. A sign of this has been the linkage the Obama team is trying to propound between efforts to derail Iran's nuclear program and efforts to establish a Palestinian state. The prospect of Israel being compelled to sign the NNPT is another card being played by the Obama team to "encourage" Israel to yield to American proposals on both the Palestinian and Iranian fronts.