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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Let’s talk about Israel, not Iran

Tel Aviv’s unchecked nuclear capabilities, not Tehran’s pursuit of a bomb, have destabilised West Asia.

Written by Jalil Mehdi |
Updated: April 16, 2015 12:17:38 am
View of the Israeli nuclear facility in the Negev Dest outside Dimona (Source: Reuters/photo) View of the Israeli nuclear facility in the Negev Dest outside Dimona (Source: Reuters/photo)

In An article in The Indian Express (April 14), Daniel Carmon, the Israeli ambassador to India, has described the future of the Lausanne understanding between Iran and the P5+1 as “bad and dangerous”. He laments that even India considers a deal with a “rogue regime” that has “consistently ignored UN Security Council resolutions” as “a great diplomatic achievement”. Tacitly making common cause with Arab monarchies, he repudiates the Lausanne framework for not doing anything to curb Iran’s “aspirations to acquire nuclear military capabilities” and its “promotion of terrorism and instability”.

This article appeared a day after the great German author, Gunter Grass, died. In his controversial 2012 poem, “What must be said”, written in the backdrop of Germany handing over a sixth Dolphin-class submarine capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Israel, he rejects “the West’s hypocrisy” over alleged Iranian nuclear designs when Israel’s nuclear capabilities are proven “beyond supervision or verification”.

Though the Israeli state has institutionalised nuclear opacity at the highest levels of national strategy, there is enough data to back Grass’s worry that Israel’s nuclear capability “endangers an already fragile world peace”. It is now a “public secret”, partly due to the 1986 disclosure by Mordechai Vanunu, a dismissed Israeli nuclear technician, that Israel possesses a deadly stockpile of nuclear warheads. Add to it Israel’s insecurity, manifest in its nuclear doctrine, commonly known as the “Samson Option”. This doctrine calls for a massive disproportionate strike on a hostile state in the event of an Israeli defeat in a conventional war. Any such action could wipe off the whole of West Asia.

It is hypocritical of Carmon to repudiate Iran for allegedly trying to build an arsenal that Israel already possesses. Scholars like Kenneth Waltz see the root cause of Iranian behaviour in the security dilemma posed by Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly, which for more than four decades has fuelled instability in West Asia. Indeed, it is Israel’s unchecked nuclear prowess and not the alleged Iranian desire for an arsenal that has resulted in the current crisis. By their very nature, states want to balance the power of other states that threaten them. The nuclearisation of South Asia is a vivid example.

With a hint of surprise, he disagrees with those in India who see the Lausanne framework as “a great diplomatic achievement”. Arguing within a non-proliferation discursive framework, he appeals to world powers, including India, to create viable and credible alternatives with more intrusive IAEA inspections. He seems to forget that India has historically rejected the non-proliferation discourse that essentially views the acquisition of nuclear weapons by any other state outside the P5 as highly undesirable.

From an Indian perspective, the nuclear non-proliferation regime is one of the most discriminatory. Without a time-bound commitment to nuclear disarmament by nuclear powers, it has divided the world into nuclear haves and have-nots. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the backbone of this regime, was a result of the two Cold War-era superpowers limiting the “ultimate power” to themselves and denying it to the rest. The indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 has ensured a system of “nuclear apartheid”, a term used by Indian government officials to reject the “nuclear colonialism” promoted by the developing NPT regime in the 1960s and 1970s. The NPT was ultimately signed and came into force in 1968. Since then, the US-led NPT regime has tried to make it extremely difficult for any state to seek nuclear capability by imposing crippling sanctions, offering incentives and, at times, issuing military threats.

The Indian defiance of the NPT regime by conducting a peaceful nuclear explosion in 1974 led to a volley of sanctions and isolation, including the institutionalisation of the technology-denial regime, that continued beyond the May 1998 Pokhran tests. Though other nuclear states like Pakistan and North Korea have come under heavy sanctions and international criticism, Israel’s de facto nuclear arsenal, interestingly, doesn’t figure in the proliferation debate. The US, the chief architect of the NPT, has not even mildly pressured Israel to sign the treaty. Israel is not party to the NPT and has not, along with the US, ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
As long as Israel possesses nuclear weapons and refuses to reflect on its own inventory, proliferation is inevitable. Only a comprehensive approach towards nuclear disarmament can guarantee long-term stability in West Asia.

The writer is with the Nelson Mandela Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi

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