Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, did not attend the 47-nation nuclear security summit in Washington DC, hosted by President Obama. Unofficial sources claim that Mr. Netanyahu feared that a number of Arab states and Turkey would bring up the issue of Israel’s nuclear weapons, which are widely believed to exist but have never been confirmed officially. His fears were well-founded and Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, duly drew the attention of the international community to the fact that it has turned a blind eye to Israel’s nuclear programme for years and that we should all ask ourselves, “Why hasn’t this issue been addressed?” Benjamin Netanyahu avoided the conference but sent a deputy, Dan Meridor, in his place, in the hope that he would be able to deflect any efforts to attack Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons.
Ironically enough, the only reason why Netanyahu wanted to attend the meeting initially was to push for Iran to be prevented from using its civilian nuclear programme to develop a nuclear weapons capacity. By staying outside the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Israel has not had to forswear nuclear weapons or admit inspectors to its facilities. Uranium experts, however, believe that Israel has an arsenal of up to 200 nuclear warheads. Jane’s Defence Weekly, the authoritative British journal on military affairs, puts Israel sixth in the world in terms of the number of nuclear weapons it possesses, with up to 300 destructive warheads. For decades the United States has not been bothered or disturbed unduly by this, a fact illustrated by the evidence that Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East, with a programme dating back to the 1950s under its first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion. No US government has ever seriously questioned Israel’s refusal to sign the NPT or its secret nuclear weapons programme which was developed with the help from France. On Tuesday however, President Barak Obama urged all countries, including the apparently omnipotent Israel, to sign the NPT and abide by it. It is unclear whether this represented a clear change in policy or was simply a statement to evade questions by journalists. During the Washington summit, instead of applying more pressure on Israel to sign the NPT Obama was reluctant to answer journalists’ questions on his country’s client state: “Initially you were talking about US behaviour, and then suddenly we’re talking about Israel,” said the President. “Let me talk about the United States.” [i]
In spite of this, Obama pressed for action to be taken against Iran and was encouraged by the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who said that “the moment of truth” had arrived and it was time for countries to act decisively in the face of Iran’s continued defiance. It is interesting how France refuses to scrap its own nuclear weapons and yet pushes for tough sanctions against Iran (which was not invited to the conference) over unsubstantiated allegations and interpretations of its intentions. On Tuesday Sarkozy swore allegiance to France’s nuclear power “heritage”. There is a different set of rules for nuclear countries depending on whether they are Western allies or not, and whether or not they pose a threat to the US or its “interests”.
The United States could counter Iran’s nuclear activities more effectively if it applied greater pressure on Israel to abandon its nuclear activities. Being seen to be even-handed on this matter would gain the US more supporters across the Middle East. This takes on a greater significance due to Netanyahu’s refusal to attend the summit as that revealed increasing tension in the relationship between Israel and its main sponsor. Now, however, not only has Obama failed to address the essential question, but the sincerity of his commitment to “international peace” can also be called into question; such peace will not be possible if he does not address the issue of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Netanyahu’s absence from the summit was a confirmation of the impunity Israel enjoys on its policies and actions; this is reinforced by the lack of any serious condemnation by other countries who are thus complicit in Israel’s disdain for international laws and conventions. Netanyahu chose this particular time to taint the memory of Holocaust victims with a reminder of the threat non-nuclear Iran supposedly poses to nuclear Israel. With all due respect, that was really bad timing Mr. Prime Minister.
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