This is cross posted by Matthew Ackerman, a Middle East Analyst at The David Project
If you watch major American media headlines on Israel, it’s easy to think that not much of importance is going on outside of the peace talks. One can be forgiven for thinking that beyond that, the only other major story about Israel is the looming confrontation with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, which tops Fidel Castro’s list (really!) of international concerns.
But lurking somewhere around page A12 (or, better put, off the home page) for months now has been a story that could come to dominate the international discussion about Israel: the increasingly successful Arab effort to put the spotlight on Israel’s assumed nuclear weapons program.
There is nothing new about these efforts. Israel has likely had the bomb since the early 1970s, and Arabs have long complained that the world (and the United States in particular) has a double standard in quietly acquiescing to the Jewish state’s nuclear weapons while bringing its full weight to bear on attempts by other countries to attain them. It, supposedly, is all the more telling of the world’s double standard that those countries that have suffered the harshest consequences for their pursuit of nuclear weapons (Iraq and Iran) are majority Arab and/or Muslim countries.
All of this, of course, has only the thinnest connection to reality. The United States actually worked to prevent Israel from acquiring the bomb, and has never officially endorsed it having one. Pakistan (a country that explicitly defines itself as Muslim) and India have both acquired nuclear weapons over lukewarm American and international objections, the latter country even receiving a quasi-official endorsement of its nuclear program from the United States.
But all of that also obscures the issue, as a chief difference between Israel, Iraq, and Iran is that the latter two countries are signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which binds them to not pursue nuclear weapons. Having never signed the NPT, Israel is not similarly bound.
Even more important than these niceties of international law is the character of the states in question. As I once heard Bret Stephens say, no one stays up at night worrying that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has his finger on the nuclear trigger. So too with Israel, which over probably 40 years of nuclear stewardship has demonstrated itself to be a responsible actor. The same, obviously, could not and can not be said about Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khameini, or Kim Jong-il, who has paved the way for tyrants seeking to instill nuclear terror in their adversaries.
The current controversy is a direct outgrowth of the decision by the current American leadership to endorse the final document at the May 2010 NPT review conference despite its call for Israel to sign the NPT and its plan for a 2012 conference on a nuclear-free Middle East. As the planning for that conference begins, it comes as no surprise to anyone that Arabs have begun to try to make its chief focus Israel. And as that conference date gets closer, don’t be surprised to see those stories migrating from the back of your paper to the front, meaning that very soon, maybe right about the time Iran gets all the highly enriched uranium it needs to build its own bomb, everyone will be talking about nothing but Israel’s nuclear bombs.
So, if the past decade, when the United States, Western Europe, and Israel (to say nothing of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan) faced the worst onslaught of Islamic terrorism in history and the “international community” saw a US president as public enemy number 1 wasn’t surreal enough for you, worse is in store. Because just when a country led by a Holocaust-denier who openly calls for Israel’s destruction and supports major terrorist groups abroad gets its hands on the ultimate conversation stopper, all the world’s eyes might be trained instead on the Jewish state’s weapons.
Strange, and frightening, days are ahead.