comments_image Comments

Isolated Israel: How Middle East Diplomacy is Unnerving the Jewish State

Potential diplomatic breakthroughs in Syria and Iran threatens to open a Pandora’s Box for Israel: attention on the country's own nuclear weapons.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren  recently spelled out quite clearly for MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell his government’s attitude toward  possible new openings in relations between the United States and Iran.

Mitchell had asked him: “What is Israel’s posture towards this opening with Iran? Short of shutting down all of its nuclear facilities, is there a step-by-step process that is possible? Should there be bilateral talks with the United States?”

Talks between the two countries could be a positive thing, Oren replied, on one condition: Iran’s capitulation. The Iranians must “stop enrichment of uranium,” “ship out their stockpile,” and then “shut down the nuclear facility underground. Let them do all that and then let them sit down and talk,” he said.

Of course, that’s not about to happen.

(Actually, it takes some cheek for the Israeli government to demand that the Iranians roll over as a prerequisite for talks, considering that when it comes to negotiations with the Palestinians, the Israelis insist that negotiations commence without any preconditions.)

The Netanyahu government appears to be caught in a bind. The recent  flurry of diplomatic activity that could result in ridding neighboring Syria of chemical weapons threatens to open a Pandora’s Box on which Israel would prefer to keep a lid. If the “international community” can persuade the Assad regime to forfeit weaponry it contends it holds as a deterrent, then inevitably questions will arise about Israel’s possession of both chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

If Syria were to ratify and abide by the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), there would be no logical reason for the international community not to insist that Israel do so as well. As a recent  editorial in the Israeli daily Haaretz put it, “it would be a pity if in the future Israel finds itself in the position of Syria—forced to sign the convention under international pressure.”

This would be embarrassing indeed. Aside from Syria and Israel, only Egypt, Angola, South Sudan, North Korea, and Myanmar have yet to sign the convention.

In turn this would most likely direct attention to the proposed Mediterranean nuclear-free zone, which would directly confront Israel’s seldom acknowledged nuclear arsenal. A recent  report in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimated Israel’s nuclear stockpile at 80 warheads, though the country has the capacity to produce many more.

Weaponry aside, it is widely recognized that behind the civil war raging in Syria, a multifaceted struggle is underway to alter the military and political balance of force in the region.

Oren appeared to let a big cat out of the bag when  he told the Jerusalem Post that in Syria, Israel “always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran,” even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.

However, Tel Aviv quickly rebuked its diplomat, with Netanyahu’s office declaring that Oren’s comments do not represent the prime minister’s position. “Israel’s policy has not changed, and we are not intervening in internal Syrian affairs.” According to, “Israeli officials have repeatedly said that the country has no interest in becoming involved in Syria’s civil war, and Netanyahu has repeatedly instructed his Cabinet and others representing the government to remain silent on the issue.”

The Jerusalem Post  account of the Oren interview also contained this intriguing passage:

“On other issues, Oren – who has contact in Washington with some ambassadors from Persian Gulf countries – said that that ‘in the last 64 years there has probably never been a greater confluence of interest between us and several Gulf States. With these Gulf States we have agreements on Syria, on Egypt, on the Palestinian issue. We certainly have agreements on Iran. This is one of those opportunities presented by the Arab Spring.’”

See more stories tagged with: