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It's Time to Break the Silence About Israel's Nuclear Weapons

The Israeli government's handwringing about an Iranian nuclear weapons program reeks of hypocrisy.

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While Snowden has so far evaded capture by his government, Vanunu spent 18 years in prison, including more than 11 in solitary confinement. Although released in 2004, he has been subjected to a broad array of restrictions on his speech and movement, including several re-arrests for giving interviews to foreign journalists and attempting to leave Israel. Yet, just as activists, foreign governments and others would never have known the U.S. government is tapping their emails and phone calls without Snowden, the world would have known very little – if anything – about Israel’s weapons of mass destruction without Vanunu.

‘Blowback’ from Israel’s nuclear lead

Although Israel, the United States and its European allies continue to dance around the subject, Israel’s nuclear capacity is widely known and has changed the dynamics in the region in dangerous ways. On Sept. 19, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin  said that “Syria came into possession of chemical weapons as an alternative to Israel’s nuclear weapons.”  (It’s also worth noting that while Israel was one of the first countries to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, it remains one of only six countries that has not ratified it.)

Some analysts believe that Israel’s insistence on zero enrichment for Iran is designed to ensure that no deal is struck at all – allowing Israel to maintain its military superiority in the region. “Netanyahu ultimately fears the success of diplomacy, not its failure,” explains Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, in  Foreign Affairs.  “Israel…understands that a resolution to the nuclear standoff would significantly reduce U.S.-Iranian tensions and open up opportunities for collaboration between the two former allies. This is what Israelis refer to as the fear of abandonment -- that, once the nuclear issue is resolved or contained, Washington will shift its focus to other matters while Israel will be stuck in the region facing a hostile Iran, without the United States by its side.”

Neither the world, nor Israel, is served legally or morally by continuing to condone a practice of don’t ask-don’t tell for an issue that is so central to global security and safety. As long as Israel refuses to acknowledge its possession of nuclear weapons or even that it has produced weapons-grade materials, it is difficult, if not impossible, to engage it in any meaningful arms control or other nuclear-related diplomacy. It certainly makes it impossible to move towards a nuclear-free Middle East—a goal to which the entire international community should aspire, and that has been endorsed by the new Iranian president.

Isn’t it time for the world to start asking, and for Israel to tell?

Pam Bailey is a freelance journalist and activist. 

 
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