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Last updated: May 6, 2013
Tania de Ildefonso Ocampos: Israel’s policy of ambiguity proves unsuccessful

“It is time for the State of Israel to come crystal clear about its own nuclear programme”

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On September 27, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Holding a cartoon-like diagram of a spherical bomb with a fuse, the premier explained to the present delegations that “by next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates”, the Islamic Republic of Iran “will move to the final stage” to assemble a nuclear weapon.

After drawing, literally, a red line at the 90 percent threshold of uranium enrichment of his bomb-shaped diagram, he exhorted the international community to place a deadline on the Iranian nuclear weapons programme arguing that “this will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy” to succeed.

Under international law, the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a sovereign state, has the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in conformity with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a signatory. Nevertheless, the Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations, released on November 8, 2011 a report that confirmed the military ambitions of the theocratic regime’s nuclear programme.

Subsequently, the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth reported that Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and other members of the Israeli security cabinet had considered an unilateral preventive attack against Iranian nuclear facilities, similar to the attacks against nuclear installations in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007, if international diplomatic efforts and sanctions would prove unsuccessful to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons programme. The hypothetical military operation would have to be executed before the theocratic regime reaches the so-called “zone of immunity”, i.e., before Iranian nuclear facilities are invulnerable to an effective Israeli military attack.

Ironically, at the time of writing, the State of Israel maintains a policy of deliberate ambiguity over its own nuclear programme, that is to say, the Jewish state neither acknowledges nor denies publicly its possession of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, since the State of Israel is a non-signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Negev Nuclear Research Center, the Israeli nuclear installation located in the Negev desert is not subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections.

Nevertheless, the Israeli nuclear complex, supposedly a textile plant, an agricultural station and a metallurgical research facility until 1960, is identifiable in satellite imagery and, due mainly to the declassification of formerly highly classified U.S. documents and the information provided by Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, there is evidence-based data about the nuclear capability of the State of Israel.

According to Avner Cohen, author of Israel and the Bomb, in 1969 Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and U.S. President Richard Nixon reached an agreement by which both Israeli and U.S. representatives would maintain a policy of opacity regarding the nuclear affairs of the Jewish country, both in order to prevent a regional nuclear arms race, and to deter an attack from Arab neighbouring states against the State of Israel. 

Former Prime Minister and current President of Israel, Shimon Peres, once stated that “the suspicion and fog surrounding this question are constructive, because they strengthen our deterrent”. But precisely “the suspicion and fog” surrounding the Israeli nuclear weapons programme are proving unconstructive for the Jewish state.

Firstly, the opacity regarding Israel’s nuclear affairs has only reaffirmed the Jewish state as a hegemonic regional power, and hence, the asymmetry of military and political power in the Middle East. Such asymmetry can only trigger an uncontrolled nuclear Middle East domino, particularly in Iran-backed proxies, i.e., Israel’s own backyard.

Secondly, since the Israel has an undeclared nuclear weapons programme of its own, the Jewish state has, arguably, no legitimacy to exhort the international community to place a deadline on the no-longer-secret Iranian nuclear weapons programme.

It is time, for the State of Israel, to come crystal clear about its own nuclear programme, even if an idiot-proof diagram is needed.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Your Middle East.

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