For many years now, Israel to no small extent in response to Iran’s verbal threats, if mostly under previous regimes, has confronted Iran’s nuclear program head on with a vigorous public relations campaign accompanied by considerable clandestine efforts. This campaign which has been quite successful in delaying the program, has pretty much reached the end of the line. Most activities against the program are now conducted in the diplomatic realm under leadership of the US with active Eurpoean and Russian support. The aim of these efforts is to reach an agreement with Iran that would make the development of nuclear weapons impossible but leave the Islamic Republic with a functionig civilian nuclear program.
From all the evidence available it appears that no matter what, any agreement arising from the negotiations with Iran is likely to leave that country as a threshold state with a nuclear breakout capability measured in months, not much more. At the same time a military solution does not appear to remain a credible option for the US although an Israeli strike can not be ruled out even if such a scenario would be beyond the pale with potential regional consequences of previously unknown proportions.
Iran, in public announcements and not for the first time, has now attempted to introduce Israel’s undeclared nuclear capabilities into the equation suggesting that it is only Israel that is preventing Middle-East nuclear disarmamament. This at a time when the Iranian nuclear program has still not been defused and is posed to become a regional threat if permitted to continue without impediment.
Since Iranian nuclear armament will almost certainly be followed by similar proliferation efforts by other players in the area, notably Turkey and Saudi Arabia, a regional nuclear disarmement effort would be of considerable benefit and could preempt such a nuclear arms race. It would be of great international interest to get such an effort underway as long as only Iran and Israel are players.
While such a quest is certainly noble and called for, essential preconditions are missing. Israel, in line with its policy of ambiguity, has never acknowledged possession of nuclear weapons. Iran is developing nuclear weapons on the sly. As long as both, Israel and Iran do not owe up to their nuclear weapons programs, nuclear disarmament in the Middle East can hardly be achieved by agreement.
A creative government in Jerusalem could use the huge incentives of regional nuclear disarmament to join the negotiations with Iran and change the Middle East. Listening to Netanyahu’s speech at Yad Vashem last night, he certainly appears to be suitably concerned about Iran’s nuclear program.