(MintPress) – On Monday, the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution calling for Israel to open its secretive nuclear arsenal to inspection by members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Israel, the lone nuclear power in the Middle East, has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, despite 174 nations calling for Tel Aviv to open its stockpile for inspection “without delay.”
This comes on the heels of the successful bid to upgrade Palestine’s political status to that of non-member observer at the U.N., signaling a collective international exasperation with decades of Israeli policies antithetical to peace.
Although there are no accurate figures for the size of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, it is estimated at numbers greater than 100 weapons, a stockpile that neighboring countries view as hostile and potentially destabilizing to the region. The Israeli government has consistently maintained a policy of “nuclear ambiguity,” neither confirming nor denying the existence of weapons. However, many leaders, even those within Israel, are questioning the long held belief that nuclear weapons provide security. Regional disarmament and the creation of a weapons free Middle East is undoubtedly in the long term interests of Israel, Iran and all states seeking security and peace.
Non-proliferation and disarmament
Israel has long refused even the possibility of nuclear enrichment for peaceful purposes in Iran without offering a disclosure of its own stockpiles. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for attacks on any nuclear stockpiles in Iran, a move that, at best, could delay Iranian nuclear development by two years and will likely lead to a devastating regional war.
Israel maintaining a secretive weapons stockpile while insisting on a complete nuclear hegemony in the Middle East is not only hypocritical, it will be potentially destabilizing for the region.
Global nuclear weapons stockpiles have been reduced considerably since the height of the Cold War to five nations — the U.S., Russia, China, U.K. and France — and these countries maintain official nuclear stockpiles having committed to transparency in signing the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty.
Since its broad adoption in 1970, the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has been signed by virtually every country on earth.
However, Israel, Pakistan and India are the lone countries that won’t allow inspectors from IAEA to monitor weapon stockpiles and the development of nuclear technology for peaceful and non-peaceful purposes.
North Korea, one of the original signatories, withdrew from treaty in 2003, joining the trio.
Despite resistance from Israeli politicians, a majority of Jewish-Israelis support the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East including the disarmament of Israel’s own weapons stockpiles.
A study conducted last year by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) found that 64 percent of respondents favored the creation of a nuclear weapons free zone, with 35 percent “strongly favoring” the proposal.
Additionally, 31 percent opposed the measure, with 6 percent choosing not to respond.
Indeed, the attitudes within the Jewish-American community have changed markedly in recent years as generations of liberal Jews, one of the core constituencies of the Democratic Party, can no longer justify Israeli policies of aggression that threaten the stability of the region.
The recent Palestinian non-member observer status vote displays the willingness of once vociferous unwavering constituencies within the Jewish-American community to speak out against settlement expansion and the lack of a negotiated two-state solution in accordance with international law.
Congregation B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side of Manhattan officially supported the Palestinian observer bid last month, becoming one of the largest and most influential congregations to publicly back the Palestinian initiative.
“The vote at the U.N. yesterday is a great moment for us as citizens of the world,” said an email sent to all congregants the day after the bid. “This is an opportunity to celebrate the process that allows a nation to come forward and ask for recognition.”
Additionally, the Union for Reform Judaism publicly opposed Israel’s recent announcement to build 3,000 illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank. The growing skepticism and opposition to Israeli policies within the American-Jewish community continues to grow concurrent to international pressure.
The creation of Israel’s nuclear program
Although the quest for Palestinian statehood and the Iranian crisis are substantially different issues, the two are linked by a push to end a decades long struggle by Israel to find acceptance in what has historically been a “hostile neighborhood” for the small Middle Eastern state.
Israel and Iran have been embroiled in a war of words over Iran’s supposed aspirations to enrich uranium for the purposes of creating a nuclear weapon. As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, a point that Iranian leadership has maintained since the inception of this conflict.
The illegitimate creation of the nuclear program is part of the reason that the U.N. and Jewish communities in the U.S. and Israel are speaking out in favor of disarmament.
A set of partially declassified FBI documents revealed in June show that Netanyahu was involved in a smuggling ring in the 1980s that helped to create the current Israeli nuclear program.
The seven pages of declassified documents detail a number of front companies established by Israel for the purposes of trafficking “triggers” and other devices that can be used as components for nuclear weapons.
These points are confirmed in a tell-all book titled, “Confidential: The Double Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon Arnon Milchan.” Milchan, the author, recalls working as an agent for LAKAM, the Israeli economic espionage division.
As an agent for LAKAM, the former Hollywood producer learned how to set up front operations, fraudulent bank accounts and phony businesses. The operations detailed took place as early as 1972 and continued through the 1980s, mostly in Israel and in Los Angeles, Calif. The operations include a somewhat convoluted web of American and Israeli contacts set up to help expand the Israeli nuclear program.
Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu are named as individuals who previously worked for the Heli Trading Company, an Israeli firm now revealed to be a front for obtaining nuclear technology.
What once made sense as a means to protect the Jewish state from legitimate existential threats during times of regional strife have become more burdensome as opposition to the nuclear program inside Israel and in the international community continues to grow.
As the conflict with Iran over Tehran’s suspected nuclear aspirations continues to mount, Israeli leadership has the opportunity to work toward regional disarmament and non-proliferation as a means to generate goodwill through confidence building measures.
The war of words over Iran’s nuclear program dates back to the early 1990s when Netanyahu, then a member of the Israeli Knesset, raised the issue of striking Iran. Israel previously used pre-emptive force to strike a suspected Syrian nuclear site in Operation Orchard, a 2007 operation that successfully eliminated the target.
However, Iran has an estimated 200 reactor sites, many of which are secured in underground bunkers. Any attack by Israel, the U.S. or any group of countries would require a colossal military invasion that would require a 10-year occupation of Iran by some intelligence estimates.
The hawkish rhetoric and talk of a unilateral invasion in Iran highlights the hypocrisy of the Israeli leadership which maintains large, undisclosed nuclear stockpiles but asks for 100 percent transparency and passivity from Iran.
The U.S. has drawn red lines similar to Israel without having talked to Iran substantively on a diplomatic level on this issue. The hard-headed approach to issuing unilateral demands is not only unproductive, it does not accurately assess what non-violent incentives can be offered for disarmament of an unconfirmed nuclear program.
“We don’t know what they want because we’re not talking to them,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, in a recent interview.