Nuclear Threats In The Mideast, Real And Alleged
In an address to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last Sunday, President Obama assured Israel that he will take “no option off the table” to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. He wants to exert pressure on Iran with tightly controlled sanctions that would curtail its ability to sell its oil and collect the revenues. Yet, Obama also cautioned: "There is too much loose talk of war."
Before he met the President, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benyamin Natanyahu, had deliberately overstated the case for an attack on Iran when he told journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that the Iranian nuclear challenge represents a “hinge of history,” and that “Western civilization” will have failed if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons. “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.”
For Natanyahu and his rightwing allies, denouncing Iran obviously provides a welcome opportunity to distract the world’s attention away from Israel’s continuing expansion of Jewish settlements, confiscation of Palestinian territory, and destruction of Palestinian property. Ironically, Natanyahu’s urgent advocacy of military action against Iran is not shared by most of his countrymen. Only about 19 percent of Israelis favor a unilateral strike without US support, according to a poll by the Brookings Institution. If the U.S. gave Israel a green light for bombing targets in Iran, 42 percent of Israelis would favor that.
Neither Obama nor Natanyahu seem to recall that in 1980 it was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that attacked Iran which grievously suffered in lives and treasure during the eight years of war. Since this conflict ended in a stalemate, Iran’s Shiite leaders have carefully avoided war.
In 1974, it was Iran’s last reigning monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who first proposed a nuclear-weapons-free zone for the Middle East. After replacing the monarchy in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran began developing a nuclear industry. Despite Western criticism of this effort, Iranian leaders persistently claimed that their country’s nuclear program was peaceful. They welcomed, moreover, the planned 2012 conference on establishing a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction.
Israel’s possession of weapons of mass destruction--nuclear, chemical, and biological--is no longer in doubt, but the government in Tel Aviv neither confirms nor denies owning nuclear weapons. Israel is one of four nuclear-armed countries (in addition to India, Pakistan, and North Korea) not recognized as a nuclear weapons state in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970. The Israeli arsenal has been reported to include thermonuclear weapons in the megaton range, neutron bombs, as well as tactical and suitcase-size nuclear devices. The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment lists Israel also as a country with undeclared chemical and biological warfare capabilities.
The most detailed information, including 60 photographs, about Israel’s nuclear arms development came from Mordechai Vanunu, an Israeli citizen who had worked at the Machon 2 facility in the Negev Desert where plutonium and bomb components were being produced. He wrote about Israel’s nuclear build-up in the London Sunday Times. Soon, however, Israel’s counterintelligence, the Mossad, had him kidnapped and brought back to Israel for trial.
Throughout Muslim countries, the U.S. government has long and frequently been criticized for maintaining a double standard on Israel’s nuclear armaments. Washington obviously takes them Israel’s nuclear arsenal for granted and justified, while loudly calling on Iran to abandon its enrichment of uranium.
On June 19, 1981, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution which urgently called upon Israel to put its nuclear facilities under the comprehensive safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Israel and the U.S., however, have been ignoring all such calls for ridding the Middle East of nuclear weapons.In Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty the signers promised that "Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”