Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Israeli Exceptionalism: A major cause of Middle East turmoil

by Justin Raimondo,
October 05, 2009

In the Washington Times, some astonishing news:

"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 pledged to maintain the agreement when he first hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in May."

This news story is an enigma wrapped up in what may be a misunderstanding, or even pure myth. To begin with, this alleged 40-year "secret understanding" is not very well understood. As Avner Cohen puts it in Ha’aretz:

"What exactly was agreed on by Nixon and Meir is in itself ambiguous. Although both leaders dictated the minutes of what had been said and agreed on, each had his or her own version of what had been said. American documents recently declassified indicate that about a month after that conversation, even Henry Kissinger, at the time Nixon’s national security adviser, was not fully aware of the exact details of what the two agreed on."

There’s no verification of this agreement in the Nixon Library, nor is there anything in the Israeli archives. We’re just supposed to accept it on faith that the U.S. government agreed to shield the Israelis from nuclear scrutiny unto eternity, without asking for anything in return. So unlike Nixon.

In any case, whatever the nature of what seems to have been a purely verbal agreement, it appears to have been broken by the Israelis, who were presumably pledged to secrecy. Alas, that secrecy has been violated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, according to the Times, "let the news of the continued U.S.-Israeli accord slip last week 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 UN 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].’"

What document? Please, Bibi, release it, so we can be let in on the secret. After all, it’s no secret anymore, thanks to your big mouth.

Given the reality of the Obama-Netanyahu agreement – and I, for one, believe it, if only because Bill Clinton is reputed to have renewed the pact as an addendum to the Wye negotiations, and the same crew is back in charge – one has to ask: what exactly do we get out of it? The privilege of lying for Israel’s sake, and that’s about it. And it isn’t even a remotely convincing lie: everyone knows Israel has at least 200 nuclear weapons, and no one is fooling anybody when it comes to their willingness to use them. Indeed, the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, Mohammed el-Baradei, recently opined that the main danger to peace in the Middle East isn’t Iran – which, after all, doesn’t have nukes and officially abjures the possibility – but Israel, which does have them and refuses to even acknowledge possession, never mind letting in UN inspectors.

Obama’s efforts to end nuclear proliferation – which he rightly sees as the greatest danger to our security, both foreign and domestic – is made a mockery of by this secret agreement. In public, Dear Leader talks about the prospect of a nuclear-free world, while in private he’s canoodling with the increasingly hysterical Israelis, who may just resort to nuking Tehran if they feel "existentially" threatened. This goes way beyond mere hypocrisy: it actively undermines our national security interests, as well as the president’s faltering attempts to negotiate an end to the standoff with Tehran. For if Israel is to be allowed to keep its nukes, without even having to acknowledge them, then the Iranians and the Arab states must reconcile themselves to living in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. This imbalance means a region in permanent crisis.

The idea that we can prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons without also disarming the nuclear-armed Israelis is a pipe dream: there are no prospects for anything but constant turmoil culminating in war unless and until we approach the problem in an evenhanded way. The alleged sanctity of the Nixon-Meir secret agreement is the biggest obstacle standing in our way – a roadblock of our own making.

Israeli exceptionalism – treating the Jewish state as if it were the 51st state, rather than an independent country – grossly distorts our foreign policy, endangers our security, and imperils our real interests in the Middle East. Its origins lie in the fact that foreign policy in a democratic polity is the result of interest groups lobbying to substitute their own goals and interests for the interests of the nation as a whole, and the powerful c plays this game very well. Until and unless the Lobby is reined in – and, yes, defeated – there will be no justice and certainly no peace in the region.