Obama keeps Is­rael’s se­cret, won’t push on nukes

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY ELI LAKE

Pres­i­dent Obama has reaf­firmed a 4-decade-old se­cret un­der­stand­ing that has al­lowed Is­rael to keep a nu­clear arse­nal without open­ing it to in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tions, three of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the un­der­stand­ing said.

The of­fi­cials, who spoke on the con­di­tion that they not be named be­cause they were dis­cussing pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions, said Mr. Obama con­veyed the mes­sage when he first hosted Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu at the White House in May.

Un­der the un­der­stand­ing, the U.S. has not pres­sured Is­rael to dis­close its nu­clear weapons or to sign the nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty (NPT), which could re­quire Is­rael to give up its es­ti­mated sev­eral hun­dred nu­clear bombs.

Is­rael had been ner­vous that Mr. Obama would not con­tinue the 1969 un­der­stand­ing be­cause of his strong sup­port for non­pro­lif­er­a­tion and pri­or­ity on pre­vent­ing Iran from de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons. The U.S. and five other world pow­ers made progress dur­ing talks with Iran in Geneva on Oct. 1 as Iran agreed in prin­ci­ple to trans­fer some po­ten­tial bomb fuel out of the coun­try and to open a re­cently dis­closed fa­cil­ity to in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tion.

Mr. Ne­tanyahu let the news of the con­tin­ued U.S.-Is­raeli ac­cord slip two weeks ago in a re­mark that at­tracted lit­tle no­tice. He was asked by Is­rael’s Chan­nel 2 whether he was wor­ried that Mr. Obama’s speech at the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly, call­ing for a world without nu­clear weapons, would ap­ply to Is­rael.

“It was ut­terly clear from the con­text of the speech that he was speak­ing about North Korea and Iran,” the Is­raeli leader said. “But I want to re­mind you that in my first meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Obama in Wash­ing­ton I re­ceived from him, and I asked to re­ceive from him, an item­ized list of the strate­gic un­der­stand­ings that have ex­isted for many years be­tween Is­rael and the United States on that is­sue. It was not for naught that I re­quested, and it was not for naught that I re­ceived [that doc­u­ment].”

The chief nu­clear un­der­stand­ing was reached at a sum­mit be­tween Pres­i­dent Nixon and Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Golda Meir that be­gan on Sept. 25, 1969. Avner Co­hen, au­thor of “Is­rael and the Bomb” and the lead­ing au­thor­ity out­side the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment on the his­tory of Is­rael’s nu­clear pro­gram, said the ac­cord amounts to “the United States pas­sively ac­cept­ing Is­rael’s nu­clear weapons sta­tus as long as Is­rael does not un­veil pub­licly its ca­pa­bil­ity or test a weapon.”

There is no for­mal record of the agree­ment nor have Is­raeli nor Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments ever pub­licly ac­knowl­edged it. In 2007, how­ever, the Nixon li­brary de­clas­si­fied a July 19, 1969, memo from na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Henry Kissinger that

A Se­nate staffer fa­mil­iar with the May reaf­fir­ma­tion, who asked not to be named be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the is­sue, said, “What this means is that the pres­i­dent gave com­mit­ments that po­lit­i­cally he had no choice but to give re­gard­ing Is­rael’s nu­clear pro­gram. How­ever, it calls into ques­tion vir­tu­ally ev­ery part of the pres­i­dent’s non­pro­lif­er­a­tion agenda.The pres­i­dent gave Is­rael an NPT treaty get out of jail free card.”

comes clos­est to ar­tic­u­lat­ing U.S. pol­icy on the is­sue. That memo says, “While we might ideally like to halt ac­tual Is­raeli pos­ses­sion, what we re­ally want at a min­i­mum may be just to keep Is­raeli pos­ses­sion from be­com­ing an es­tab­lished in­ter­na­tional fact.”

Mr. Co­hen has said the re­sult- ing pol­icy was the equiv­a­lent of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

The Ne­tanyahu gov­ern­ment sought to reaf­firm the un­der­stand­ing in part out of con­cern that Iran would seek Is­raeli dis­clo­sures of its nu­clear pro­gram in ne­go­ti­a­tions with the United States and other world pow­ers. Iran has fre­quently ac­cused the U.S. of hav­ing a dou­ble stan­dard by not ob­ject­ing to Is­rael’s arse­nal.

Mr. Co­hen said the reaf­fir­ma­tion and the fact that Mr. Ne­tanyahu sought and re­ceived a writ­ten record of the deal sug­gest that “it ap­pears not only that there was no joint un­der­stand­ing of what had been agreed in Septem­ber 1969 but it is also ap­par­ent that even the notes of the two leaders may no longer ex­ist. It means that Ne­tanyahu wanted to have some­thing in writ­ing that im­plies that un­der­stand­ing. It also af­firms the view that the United States is in fact a part­ner in Is­rael’s pol­icy of nu­clear opac­ity.”

Jonathan Peled, a spokesman for the Is­raeli Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton, de­clined to com­ment, as did the White House Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

The se­cret un­der­stand­ing could un­der­mine the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s goal of a world without nu­clear weapons. In par­tic­u­lar, it could im­pinge on U.S. ef­forts to bring into force the Com­pre­hen­sive Test Ban Treaty and the Fis­sile Ma­te­rial Cut­off Treaty, two agree­ments that U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions have ar­gued should ap­ply to Is­rael in the past. They would ban nu­clear tests and the pro­duc­tion of ma­te­rial for weapons.

A Se­nate staffer fa­mil­iar with the May reaf­fir­ma­tion, who asked not to be named be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the is­sue, said, “What this means is that the pres­i­dent gave com­mit­ments that po­lit­i­cally he had no choice but to give re­gard­ing Is­rael’s nu­clear pro­gram. How­ever, it calls into ques­tion vir­tu­ally ev­ery part of the pres­i­dent’s non­pro­lif­er­a­tion agenda.The pres­i­dent gave Is­rael an NPT treaty get out of jail free card.”

Daryl Kimball, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion, said the step was less in­ju­ri­ous to U.S. pol­icy.

“I think it is par for the course that the two in­com­ing leaders of the United States and Is­rael would want to clar­ify pre­vi­ous un­der­stand­ings be­tween their gov­ern­ments on this is­sue,” he said.

How­ever Mr. Kimball added, “I would re­spect­fully dis­agree with Mr. Ne­tanyahu. Pres­i­dent Obama’s speech and U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1887 ap­ply to all coun­tries ir­re­spec­tive of se­cret un­der­stand­ings be­tween the U.S. and Is­rael. A world without nu­clear weapons is con­sis­tent with Is­rael’s stated goal of achiev­ing a Mid­dle East free of weapons of mass de­struc­tion. Obama’s mes­sage is that the same non­pro­lif­er­a­tion and dis­ar­ma­ment re­spon­si­bil­i­ties should ap­ply to all states and not just a few.”

Is­raeli nu­clear doc­trine is known as “the long corridor.” Un­der it, Is­rael would be­gin to con­sider nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment only af­ter all coun­tries of­fi­cially at war with it signed peace treaties and all neigh­bor­ing coun­tries re­lin­quished not only nu­clear pro­grams but also chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal ar­se­nals. Is­rael sees nu­clear weapons as an ex­is­ten­tial guar­an­tee in a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment.

David Al­bright, pres­i­dent of the In­sti­tute for Sci­ence and In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity, said he hoped the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion did not con­cede too much to Is­rael.

“One hopes that the price for such con­ces­sions is Is­raeli agree­ment to the Com­pre­hen­sive Test Ban Treaty and the Fis­sile Ma­te­rial Cut­off Treaty and an ac­cep­tance of the long-term goal of a Mid­dle East weapons-of-mass­de­struc­tion-free zone,” he said. “Oth­er­wise, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion paid too much, given its fo­cus on a world free of nu­clear weapons.”

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu let the news of the con­tin­ued U.S.-Is­raeli nu­clear ac­cord slip re­cently, say­ing he re­quested a list of “strate­gic un­der­stand­ings” in May.

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