In a recent article, Tom Anderson argued that Israeli fears of a nuclear Iran are not, contrary to what I had previously written, based on the possible direct existential threat Iran poses but rather on the fact that it would trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. Although I disagree that the first factor plays no role in Israeli fears (simply check the Israeli rhetoric and the amount of times the Holocaust and Nazism are mentioned), I do concede that the second factor is prominent as well. But then I ask: why do we criticise one country’s nuclear program and not another country’s actual possession of nuclear weapons? And why do we think that one country’s nuclear program will lead to a nuclear arms race and while anothers will not? I am of course referring to Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
The double standards through which we judge Iran and Israel’s respective cases take three distinct shapes. Firstly, Iran’s nuclear program is judged illegal since it violates the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) treaty which enables inspectors to examine any premises deemed suspect. It is quickly forgotten that Israel also refused to open all of its facilities to such inspections. This resulted not only in the violation of IAEA regulations but also of US domestic law. According to the 1976 Symington clause of the Foreign Assistance Act, any US administration must cut off economic and military aid to any country which imports uranium enrichment technology or materials without accepting the safeguards of IAEA on its nuclear facilities. Needless to say, all the US administrations since the Act was passed have continued to support Israel. Furthermore, in 1985 an American was indicted by the Los Angeles court for transporting 800 high-speed electron switches (known as krytons) used in triggering mechanisms in atomic weapons to Israel. Perhaps the most famous case of illegal acquisition of nuclear material was Operation Plumbat where the Mossad, Israels secret service, hijacked a German ship directed to the Italian port of Genoa stealing 200 tons of yellowcake.
Secondly, Israel’s nuclear program which ultimately led to the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal was undemocratic. Decisions were undertaken by selected ministers behind closed doors without the approval of the whole Knesset which was kept in the dark. In 1950, 310,000 Israelis, or 40% of the population at the time, signed the Stockholm Appeal initiated by the World Peace Council demanding the outlawing of nuclear weapons. Their appeal fell on deaf ears. More interestingly, when Ben Gurion was asked by the Eisenhower administration about the Dimona nuclear reactor, where the nuclear weapons program was secretly being carried out, he replied that it was a textile plant, effectively lying to the US President and the international community just like Ahmadinejad is suspected of doing now.
Thirdly, Israel is reportedly the only country in the Middle East to have ever officially considered using nuclear weapons against another country within the region, twice. In 1973, Golda Meir, the then Prime Minister, gave Moshe Dayan permission to activate nuclear weapons in case Egypt invaded Israel. Her command was tainted with religious talk since she expressed her fear that Egypt might have ended The Third Temple. Use of nuclear weapons justified through religious analogies: sounds like religious fundamentalism as defined by the contemporary Israeli administration and its supporters. The second time Israeli political leaders thought of using their nuclear arsenal against a country in the region was in 1982 when Sharon proposed to attack Syria using nuclear weapons.
Some argue that Israel is not violating any international agreement by detaining a nuclear arsenal because it did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This is an immoral and unjust argument since by the same standards we should also not be allowed to hold accountable governments committing crimes against humanity simply because they have not signed treatises where they explicitly promise not to do so. Let alone that the mere fact of not being a signatory of the NPT rouses serious questions about Israel’s ethical credibility on international affairs.
The fact of the matter is that Western governments and anyone who is committed to their view of an imminent Iranian threat is judging Iran using double standards: Israel having a nuclear arsenal is legitimate while Iran trying to acquire one is not. More importantly, what this view fails to appreciate is that it is not Iran which is going to spark the desire for nuclear weapons within the Middle East. This desire has already been sparked by Israels acquisition of a nuclear arsenal, by its repeatedly manifested belligerence and by the warranted perception of Israel as a country above the law. Indeed, in a poll conducted in the first half of 2011 by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) where 16,731 individuals from 12 Arab countries were interviewed, 55% of the respondents stated that Israels possession of WMD justifies the possession of WMD by other countries in the region and 73% see Israel and the US as the biggest threats. If Israel is seriously worried about a nuclear arms race then it should initiate open negotiations with other Middle Eastern governments and aim for an agreement promising the dismantlement of its nuclear arsenal in return for nuclear non-proliferation.