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You can’t trust Israel (so I’d hope)

by Shmuel Rosner

January 17, 2012 | 12:13 pm

Iranian students protesting near Isfahan. (Reuters)

Shibley Telhami and Steven Kull have an idea. And not an idea like the ones most of us have twice a day - they have an idea that could change the Middle East (to be fair, they do warn the readers that regional nuclear disarmament will not be easy). They are both distinguished members of the Washington community, which explains why their idea was considered worthy of the New York Times opinion page:

If Israel’s nuclear program were to become part of the equation, it would be a game-changer. Iran has until now effectively accused the West of employing a double standard because it does not demand Israeli disarmament, earning it many fans across the Arab world.

What they suggest in effect is that both Iran and Israel would be asked to abandon the nuclear path. Thus, Iran would be denied the claim of double standard (that is, letting Israel have it without Iran having it), and the authors believe this will make the deal “hard for Iran to refuse”.

This is one of these great ideas that look great in the Washington think-tank world, and can never work in the real world.

For one, because Iran can’t be trusted.

And also: Because international monitors can’t be trusted - they might have the best of intentions but trusting them on matter of such significance is highly problematic.

And also: Because Israel can’t be trusted. In fact, I would hope Israel can’t be trusted on this issue, I would hope its leaders would have the ingenuity to cheat their way through any proposed regime of disarmament. .

Telhami and Kull proudly present poll (Telhami’s poll) findings according to which “when asked whether it would be better for both Israel and Iran to have the bomb, or for neither to have it, 65 percent of Israeli Jews said neither. And a remarkable 64 percent favored the idea of a nuclear-free zone, even when it was explained that this would mean Israel giving up its nuclear weapons.” This means nothing. Nuclear policies were never an issue of much public debate and were always decided by a small cadre of leaders and experts.

But my favorite part of this article is the following paragraph:

[T]alk of an “existential threat” projects Israel as weak, hurts its morale, and reduces its foreign policy options. This helps explain why three leading Israeli security experts — the Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, a former Mossad chief, Efraim Halevy, and a former military chief of staff, Dan Halutz — all recently declared that a nuclear Iran would not pose an existential threat to Israel.

Now think: Why would these three distinguished security men say that a nuclear Iran is not an existential threat to Israel? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Israel might have a way to retaliate against any attack? And is it not this option of retaliation that Telhami and Kull are after? In other words: You can either rely on the statements made based on Israel’s assumed capabilities - or say that those capabilities should be dismantled.

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