Would limiting Israel’s nuclear arsenal help block Iran’s atomic aims? (Haaretz 10.1.2010)
In the war on international jihad, both organized and individual, the American security establishment suffered three heavy blows in the course of a few weeks. Twelve soldiers were murdered at the Fort Hood base by Muslim psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, there was the attempted suicide bombing of Northwest-Delta Flight 253 to Detroit, and seven CIA operatives were killed by a double agent run by Jordanian intelligence. In each of the three incidents the attacks’ planners penetrated an American target – military bases and an airline.
This series of failures showed on United States President Barack Obama’s face midweek, as he tried to evince determination but revealed impotent frustration. Staff from the State Department’s history unit were not among the many top-level administration people invited to the discussion at the White House. This is a pity, because they would have drawn the attention of Obama and his people to documents from the period of presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford that were published just last month after being declassified. These documents show the extent to which terror takes one shape and then another, becomes dormant – but doesn’t sleep deeply – and then reawakens with redoubled fury.
In a Central Intelligence Agency document from 1976 examining the danger of terror organizations gaining control of nuclear weapons, the likelihood of this scenario was assessed as low. With one reservation: If anyone in the world of terror is capable of doing this, it would be Palestinian organizations from Black September or some other incarnation of Fatah to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Palestinian organizations had a dangerous combination of will, ability and connections with similar organizations in East Asia (such as the Japanese Red Army, which dispatched Kozo Okamoto to kill at Lod Airport) and especially in Europe. The CIA’s working assumption was that terrorists would try to obtain nuclear weapons from one of the hundreds of storage sites in Europe or from a convoy moving between sites; they might succeed in gaining control of a bomb or warhead and threaten a nuclear explosion or initiate bargaining.
Nearly 35 years later the main players may be different – Al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas instead of the organizations headed by Yasser Arafat, Ali Hassan Salameh, George Habash and Ahmad Jibril – but the danger has only increased. Rogue states like Iran and North Korea have ascended the nuclear ladder, nuclear Pakistan could fall apart and Abdul Qadeer Khan’s network has sold nuclear secrets to anyone who can pay.
It is no longer possible to dismiss as negligible the possibility that a fanatical organization will get nuclear arms, materials or know-how from one of its patrons, take advantage of a gap in security and carry out a mass suicide attack. This could happen on a plane, a ship anchored in an American port with a missile launched from the sea, or a truck racing in from Mexico to the American side of the border in California or Arizona. It could also happen if an American who has converted to Islam or is the son of immigrants (like Maj. Hasan) does what Timothy McVeigh did with different motives when he blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, but this with a nuclear weapon.
To deal with nuclear terror it will be necessary to deal with states that sponsor it. To do so, it will be necessary to update the proliferation regime worldwide. Israel will also have to be included in this. Though this is an apocalyptic vision, there is scope for immediate action.
In April Obama will host an international nuclear security summit. It is not clear who will represent Israel there. If the representative is at the very highest level, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also chairs the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, and not the commission’s director general, he will have to defend Israel’s position and not merely recycle the demands concerning Iran.
In May, shortly after Obama’s summit, a committee will meet – as it does every five years – to review the state of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime. Israel is not a signatory to this treaty and is therefore not subject to the regime, but there is significance for Israel in the conjunction of the nuclear meetings and what happens in advance of them.
Last month the report “Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers” was published by the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. Heading the commission were former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans and former Japanese foreign minister Yoriko Kawaguchi. Also on the committee were 13 statesman and experts, among them former American defense secretary William Perry, retired German chief of staff General Klaus Naumann (a good friend of Israel who served as head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Military Committee) and Turki Al Faisal, who headed Saudi intelligence for a quarter of a century. This group of people is privy to many secrets and have access to all the latest information.
The launch of the commission’s report was marked during a flight by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to Japan. About two weeks previously, Rudd, his deputy prime minister Julia Gillard and figures from the entire political spectrum met with a delegation of Knesset members, academics and journalists who visited Sidney and Melbourne as guests of the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum headed by Albert Dadon. The abundant friendship for Israel was true and profound, crossing parties and circles.
If in Israel it is often noted that in the 1948 war an entire percent of the population was lost – 6,000 out of 600,000 – in Australia the fatality rate during World War I was even higher: 55,000 soldiers out of a population of less than five million, and an army of about half a million who served the British Empire. There they also remember well World War II and the fear of defeat after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the British failure in Singapore and the Japanese stronghold in Indonesia.
From the conquest of Be’er Sheva under Gen. Edmund Allenby to commando operations in western Iraq, Australians have played a positive role in Israel’s history. Terror is perceived as a common enemy, with no illusions that bringing succor to feelings of injustice and discrimination will save Australian tourists from an attack on a nightclub in Bali.
The measures taken against terrorism in Australia are more sober and less panicky than the measures taken against biological or agricultural pollution that might enter the country and contaminate flocks or grazing land. Alas for the traveler in whose pocket an inspector finds a snack or an apple. Every tourist is suspected of being a successor to Tiger Woods, lest he has in his possession golf shoes or clubs that have touched infected foreign lawns.
This background of uninhibited Australian affection, which has grown even stronger during outgoing Ambassador James Larsen’s tour of duty in Tel Aviv, negates a priori any possibility of depicting the Evans-Kawaguchi report as hostile toward Israel. It is proportional, fair and does not attack Israel or aspire to the unattainable. It only proposes withdrawing the exemption extended in practice to Israel over the past four decades.
The report treats it as fact that Israel is a country in possession of nuclear weapons outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty with an estimated 60 to 200 weapons, some of which are positioned. It mentions a very common assumption that Israel has ceased to produce fissile material but will not explicitly relinquish this route before there is a significant improvement in its security environment. The report recommends applying pressure on Israel – as well as India and Pakistan – to do so.
Evans, Kawaguchi and their partners are aiming at a practical solution. They write: “Recognizing the reality that the three nuclear-armed states now outside the NPT – India, Pakistan and Israel – are not likely to become members any time soon, every effort should be made to achieve their participation in parallel instruments and arrangements which apply equivalent non-proliferation and disarmament obligations.”
The most creative idea in the report is this establishment of a parallel structure, the meaning of which is recognition of the atom’s settlement blocs – a next-generation NPT.
This is only the beginning. The acknowledged nuclear powers that are members of the NPT have committed to a gradual reduction of their weapons arsenal as a stimulus to all the rest not to nuclearize, and as a justification of the effort to block Iran and North Korea. A similar commitment would apply to Israel, India and Pakistan. The supreme aim is presented in two stages: minimizing the world stockpile by 2025 and bringing it down to zero some time thereafter.
The Evans-Kawaguchi report acknowledges the dangers facing Israel in the Middle East and proposes a reasonable formula for resolving the nuclear concerns, from Tehran to terror. Among its authors were an Indian and a Pakistani, though not an Israeli, and its formulators and patrons are friendly. It could be signed by Israelis who believe it is still too early to give up the nuclear insurance policy entirely. Others, who cling tightly to the existing arrangement, will be chilled by the report and its spirit, as well as Obama’s. This is not a terrible problem. They should put on a sweater.