Friday, August 20, 2010

Alleged Nuclear Weapons Programs: Iran and Israel

"The Obama administration, citing evidence of continued troubles inside Iran’s nuclear program, has persuaded Israel that it would take roughly a year — and perhaps longer — for Iran to complete what one senior official called a “dash” for a nuclear weapon, according to American officials.

Administration officials said they believe the assessment has dimmed the prospect that Israel would pre-emptively strike against the country’s nuclear facilities within the next year, as Israeli officials have suggested in thinly veiled threats."

New York Times
U.S. Assures Israel That Iran Threat Is Not Imminent
August 19, 2010


Iran and Israel have at least one thing in common: they are Middle Eastern countries with alleged nuclear weapons programs.

According to the Times article quoted above, the United States expects that Iran will not have a nuclear bomb for at least a year. As a participant in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, Iran’s nuclear facilities are subject to review by international weapons inspectors. The administration believes that were Iran to approach the point of having sufficient weapons-grade Uranium for a bomb, such would come to light within weeks, and at that point, military strikes could be made. The article claims that this has given Israel sufficient assurance so as to not attempt a pre-emptive strike.

Israel has maintained a policy of ‘opacity’ regarding its possession of nuclear weapons, and has never publicly stated whether they have them or not. Like India and Pakistan, Israel never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and is not subject to UN inspections of its nuclear facilities. Nonetheless, as evidence regarding Israel's alleged nuclear program and arsenal has leaked over the years, its existence has become something of an open secret, acknowledged in the press and at least one study by the U.S. Air Force Counterproliferation Center.

As Israel itself does not acknowledge existence of the program, a number of Arab nations have recently pushed for inspections of Israel’s nuclear weapons program. The implication is clear: If Iran claims that their nuclear program is for civilian purposes only, and is already subject to international inspection, then why should not Israel’s nuclear facilities suspected be subject to inspections as well? The black and white answer would be that Israel has not signed a treaty mandating such inspections, however, in light of the information already public about Israel’s program, the question is not wholly unreasonable.

From a U.S. security perspective, the answer is self-serving but clear. Better that a predictable ally be in possession of nuclear weapons than an unpredictable potential adversary, and public acknowledgement of an Israeli nuclear program could add instability to the region, and distract from efforts to keep Iran from gaining their own nuclear bomb.

Nonetheless, it cannot be ignored that the presence of Israel as an assumedly nuclear state may well have been a catalyst for surrounding Arab nations to desire a bomb of their own, in order to both have greater power in the region, as well as have an effective deterrent against an Israeli nuclear attack. It may not solve anything for the United States to attempt to address Israel’s nuclear program. However, I am extremely curious as to whether Israel’s program will come under greater scrutiny as the prospect of a nuclear Iran grows in the coming year.

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While my college Political Science education was limited to a six course minor, I’ve always been at least somewhat interested in foreign policy, particularly in regards to nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation. All the same, I qualify myself by saying that my reading and background on this is that of an interested layman, and I’d welcome any feedback, comments or corrections.

- Rob