From The Australian, supplied by our Ozzie friend, RR
A CALL by a US official for Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has raised fears in Jerusalem that the Obama administration may be seeking to block the Iranian nuclear threat by sacrificing Israel’s reported nuclear arsenal.
US Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said this week: “Universal adherence to the NPT, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea, remains a fundamental objective of the United States.”
The US has quietly accepted Israel’s nuclear ambitions over the years because the Jewish state’s perceived vulnerability in the Middle East lent legitimacy to its desire for a “doomsday” weapon that could deter its enemies.
“In the past, there was an informal agreement by which the Americans looked the other way (regarding Israel’s nuclear program),” said Uzi Even, a former Knesset member and a scientist who was involved in the program. “Now the US is breaching this agreement.”
A senior official in Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the ministry was “trying to verify” Ms Gottemoeller’s statement, apparently meaning it was attempting to determine whether it meant a departure by the new US administration from previous policy. “In any case, it’s baffling.”
Under the treaty, only five nations are allowed to hold nuclear weapons – the US, Russia, Britain, France and China. All other signatories are obliged not to develop nuclear weapons.
Those that already have nuclear weapons are required to gradually rid themselves of them.
The only non-signatories in the world are the four countries cited by Ms Gottemoeller. India, Pakistan and North Korea have tested nuclear devices. Israel has not but is reported to have up to 200 nuclear warheads.
Under a 40-year-old understanding reportedly achieved between then Israeli prime minister Golda Meir and then US president Richard Nixon, Washington has refrained from pressuring Israel to sign the NPT.
Israel, for its part, maintained ambiguity about its nuclear program and refrained from any nuclear test. It was Israeli President Shimon Peres who formulated Israel’s public position in the 1960s when he was deputy defence minister – “Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East”.
This formula was put to the test in the 1973 Yom Kippur War when the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a successful surprise attack and for a few days Israel’s survival appeared at stake.
Whatever thoughts may have gone through the minds of the leadership, Israel did not threaten to use nuclear weapons. Eventually, its ground forces succeeded in turning the tide.
By choosing nuclear ambiguity, Israel has been able to maintain its deterrent posture while reducing the pressures that would have come with an open declaration of nuclear capability.
However, with the rapid advances Iran is making in its nuclear program, Tehran’s complaint of a double-standard towards Israel is being given increasing attention.
Israeli officials have in the past said they would be willing to sign the NPT but only after all Middle Eastern nations, including Iran, have acknowledged Israel’s right to exist and signed peace treaties.