VIENNA — Israel’s secretive nuclear activities may undergo unprecedented scrutiny next month, with a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency tentatively set to focus on the topic for the first time, according to documents shared Friday with The Associated Press.
A copy of the restricted provisional agenda of the IAEA’s June 7 board meeting lists “Israeli nuclear capabilities” as the eighth item — the first time that that the agency’s decision-making body is being asked to deal with the issue in its 52 years of existence…
The 35-nation IAEA board is the agency’s decision making body and can refer proliferation concerns to the U.N. Security Council — as it did with Iran in 2006 after Tehran resumed uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons…
The latest pressure is putting the Jewish state in an uncomfortable position. It wants the international community to take stern action to prevent Iran from getting atomic weapons but at the same time brushes off calls to come clean about its own nuclear capabilities.
This article obscures an important point, which is that the IAEA — and the UN — have no authority over Israel’s nuclear capability. And it gives the impression that Iran and Israel’s nuclear programs are both in some way in violation of international law, and that if action is taken regarding Iran it should also be taken toward Israel. This is entirely false.
The IAEA was created in 1957 as “the world’s ‘Atoms for Peace’ agency.” The idea was that the IAEA would supply fissionable material and know-how to countries that wanted to use atomic energy for peaceful purposes in return for strict controls over how these would be used. To that end it set up a system of inspections; if a country was found to be using IAEA-provided materials for military purposes, the information would be passed to the Security Council for action.
The IAEA’s authorized functions are listed in its founding Statute. They do not include interference in nuclear activities that are not related to material supplied by the IAEA, unless the parties involved have voluntarily agreed to involve the IAEA, as was done with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
In 1970 the NPT came into being. It recognized that five nations already had nuclear weapons — the US, Soviet Union, UK, France, and China — and in effect granted them a monopoly. Signatories on the treaty agreed that they would not develop nuclear weapons themselves or contribute to the proliferation thereof and would accept IAEA supervision over their peaceful use of atomic energy.
Israel already had several weapons in 1970 and chose not to sign the NPT. So it is not in violation of it. And it is not subject to IAEA inspection.
Indeed, Israel’s nuclear weapons are exactly as legal under international law as those of the US.
Iran, on the other hand, did sign the NPT. It is required to permit IAEA inspections of its nuclear installations, and the IAEA has determined that Iran is probably developing weapons in violation of the treaty, but Iran insists that its project is entirely for peaceful purposes. Nobody honestly believes that.
North Korea, which has tested (it’s not clear how successfully) a weapon was a party to the NPT, but withdrew from it. Two other nuclear states — India and Pakistan — did not sign the treaty and so are not bound by it.
Israel has always suggested — but not stated explicitly, since it has never admitted to possessing nuclear weapons — that they would only be used defensively and only when there was no alternative. The closest it may have come to doing so was in the early stages of the 1973 war, when there was a possibility of enemy penetration into Israel beyond the pre-1967 borders. Some believe that Israel armed some weapons in the knowledge that the US and USSR would detect this, both as a deterrent to intervention by the USSR and a spur to the US to resupply Israel with conventional weapons.
In 1991, it’s said that weapons were put on alert in the event that Saddam would fire Scuds with chemical warheads at Israel (he did not). Syria also has a large quantity of chemical warheads which have not been used, probably from fear of nuclear retaliation.
The IDF has multiple delivery systems, which include submarine-launched cruise missiles and IRBM/ICBM’s in hardened land installations, giving it a second-strike capability. As I wrote yesterday, an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel, no matter how ‘successful’, would trigger a response that would in essence eliminate Iran as a modern state. Israel’s missiles can also reach far beyond the Middle East, a fact which was highly relevant during the period that the USSR was supporting the Arab nations.
One might say that the form that the Mideast conflict has taken since 1973 — a low-intensity war involving non-state proxies and terrorism combined with stepped-up political and economic pressure — has been determined by the presence of Israel’s nuclear deterrent. Not good, but better than the alternative.
So it’s not surprising that Israel’s enemies have recently begun a diplomatic campaign for Israel to sign the NPT, to declare the Mideast a ‘nuclear-free zone’, etc.
Bad idea. Israel’s nuclear weapons are probably the most ‘pro-peace’ factor in the entire Mideast equation. Probably the best policy for Israel is to continue its policy of official ambiguity along with continued development of low-fallout nuclear weapons technology — i.e., neutron weapons, electromagnetic pulse weapons, etc.