Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

July 19, 2010

The Israeli Nuclear Arsenal: Worst-Kept Secret in the Middle East

Several CNI interns and I attended an event entitled “The Israeli Nuclear Arsenal: Espionage, Opacity, and Future” held at the International Spy Museum here in Washington, D.C. The event was organized by  Institute for Research: Middle East Policy (IRmep) and brought together three distinguished panelists to discuss the worst-kept secret in international politics–the existence of an Israeli Nuclear Arsenal.

The panel discussion was frank and deeply informative, bringing together authors Grant F. Smith and Sasha Polakow-Sulansky, and recent CNI Radio: Jerusalem Calling guest John Mearsheimer. The topics discussed ranged from the interpretation of recently declassified documents on the role of American interests in building Israel’s nuclear arsenal to the relationship between apartheid South Africa and Israel.

Perhaps most striking was John Mearsheimer’s realistic analysis of the situation.  Mearsheimer posed four questions:

Why did Israel develop nuclear weapons?
Should Israel abandon its nuclear arsenal?
Is opacity in Israel’s best interest?
Is it in America’s best interest for Israel to have nuclear weapons?

Coming for a realist perspective, Mearsheimer argued that nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrence; he said that if he were a national security adviser to Israel in the 1950s, he would advocate that the state acquire nuclear weapons.

In regards to opacity, Mearsheimer argued that Israel is not fooling anyone with its “strategic ambiguity,” as virtually everyone is aware that Israel is a nuclear power.

The nuclear issue clearly shows a divide in interests between the U.S. and Israel.  “Israel is an albatross around our neck,” he said.  Initially, the U.S. was against Israeli nuclear proliferation in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  If Israel was a nuclear power, it would be difficult to secure a nuclear-free Middle East.

Mearsheimer is not optimistic about the future; he believes the situation will only get worse.  He believes the proximity talks are a charade and that Israel will eventually become an apartheid state.   He articulates his point further in his article in the American Conservative.

When asked by former CNI President Gene Bird what the U.S. can do to prevent another war in the region , Mearsheimer laid out what he believes the Obama strategy should have been: Obama should have appealed to the American Jewish community and emphasized that a two-state solution was in the best interest of Israel.  Instead, he picked a fight with the Israeli lobby, and consequently had to “run up the white flag,” during the recent White House meeting with Netanyahu.

While Mearsheimer’s realist perspective is intriguing and certainly feasible, the future of the conflict does not have to be as grim as he predicts.  Though his analysis of the Obama administration’s strategy and relationship with both the Israeli government and Israeli lobby is spot-on, there are some encouraging aspects of Obama’s policies, notably his willingness to address the Israeli-Arab conflict so soon in his term, unlike his predecessors.


June 10, 2010

The Separation Barrier

A mix of Palestinians, West Bank settlers, environmentalists and developers, have all united in opposition to the construction of the separation barrier in an area around Jerusalem (Haaretz).

Environmentalists and settlers of Gush Etzion are opposed to the destruction of the natural landscape.  Also, a development company called Givat Yael, though self-interested, drew up an alternative route that Israel rejected.  The alternative would have met security goals, had a smaller impact on the Palestinian village of Al-Walaja, and allowed the company to continue with its development plans (Haaretz).  Israel’s rejection of the alternative gives more credence to the idea that the wall is not motivated by security, but rather demographics, as the proposed placement of the barrier blocks off the village. (more…)

May 25, 2010

An Update on Negotiations

As George Mitchell has returned fruitless from the first round of proximity talks, prospects for success of the four month long project have already dwindled.  A bleak atmosphere of cynicism surrounds Israel and the West Bank, as both Jews and Palestinians believe the talks will be exercises in futility.

The proximity talks seemed doomed from the beginning.  The spirit of negotiations was  dampened  months ago, when in March Netanyahu  announced the building of 1,600 new homes in an East Jerusalem settlement, and President Abbas retaliated by announcing that negotiations with Israel would not take place unless there was a freeze on settlement building.  However, the subsequent scolding and cajoling by the U.S. resulted in both men decreasing the intensity of their agendas, for the sake of possible negotiations. (more…)

March 26, 2010

What kind of Gaza does Israel want?

Filed under: Apartheid,Discourse in America,Gaza,Israeli politics,United Nations — colbyconnelly @ 8:39 am

United Nation’s Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s recent visit to the Gaza Strip, and his expression of bewilderment and outrage at the peril of those blockaded within the small territory begs the question; what sort of Gaza would Israel find acceptable?

Military strikes against Gaza and its cross border tunnels, on which the Gazan economy has become dependent, have been renewed in recent weeks. Many children in Gaza suffer from malnourishment, which is known to cause stunted growth as well as stunted brain development. Combine this with the fact that many of the same children have no access to a remotely proper education and one has a recipe for the creation of a new generation of violent extremists; the central argument proponents of the blockade will put forth to begin with. However, we have all heard the statistics and arguments before and a few questions need to be raised about the dire nature of the situation. Only the future remains in question. (more…)

February 3, 2010

Ehud Barak uses the A-word. WaPo buries it

Filed under: Apartheid,Discourse in America,Discourse in Israel — Helena Cobban @ 7:44 am

Israel’s much-decorated defense minister Ehud Barak yesterday told a high-level audience in Israel that unless Israel can reach a peace deal with the Palestinians it will indeed be running an apartheid system:

The simple truth is, if there is one state [including Israel, the West Bank and Gaza] it will have to be either binational or undemocratic. … if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.


Shouldn’t Barak start running scared of the kind of massive backlash that Jimmy Carter met when he first, timidly, suggested that what was happening in the occupied territories– though not, in his view, in Israel itself– could be headed toward some kind of apartheid?

Nah, I guess it’s only people in the United States who need to worry about that. The general public discourse on matters Palestinians is still far more free and open inside Israel than it is here in America. (As MJ Rosenberg and Matt Yglesias have already pointed out.)

Another case in point. Barak’s use of the A-word was pretty big news in Israel. But here in the capital of the free world, if you wanted to learn about his characterization of the situation from the venerable Washington Post you’d have to read right down to the bottom of this article— which headlined Salam Fayyad’s appearance at the Herzliya conference, not Barak’s.

(Talking of Barak, this pointed little commentary arguing that he prefers hanging onto his cabinet seat rather than averting Israel’s next war with Syria is also worth reading.)

Blog at WordPress.com.