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Owning Up to Israel’s Bomb

TEL AVIV – President Barack Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons, and the recent agreement he signed with Russia aimed at cutting back the nuclear stockpiles of both countries, enhances his moral and political leadership. But how will his campaign against nuclear proliferation affect Israel, widely seen as the world’s sixth nuclear weapon state, and so far the only one in the Middle East?

US Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller’s recent call for Israel to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which would require it to declare and relinquish its nuclear arsenal, has incited fears that America’s diplomatic umbrella for Israel’s nuclear status is ending. From now on, it appeared to Israelis, the US will treat all states the same when it comes to nuclear weapons. Israel is especially concerned that Obama might be willing to address Iran’s nuclear ambition by equating it with Israel’s nuclear status.

The intellectual foundations of the new American attitude were laid down in a famous article by Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, George Schultz, and William Perry entitled “Toward a Nuclear-Free World.” In calling upon the world’s nuclear powers to preach by example and dramatically reduce their nuclear arsenals, the article was also a call for equality among nations in the nuclear domain.

Bruce Riedel, who until recently headed the Obama administration’s strategy review  for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and who is by no means hostile to America’s unique relations with Israel, has been explicit about this. “If you are really serious about a deal with Iran, Israel has to come out of the closet. A policy based on fiction and double standards is bound to fail sooner or later. What is remarkable is that it has lasted so long.”