Why You Should Still Worry About Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East

News Abroad


Mr. Lambers is the author of the book, Nuclear Weapons (2002) and a writer for the History News Service.

Saddam Hussein's regime is gone. An Iraqi nuclear weapons program is no longer to be feared. Libya has just relinquished its weapons of mass destruction programs. These recent developments no doubt bring comfort to some.

But we can't rest easy. The dangers of nuclear weaponry still exist in the Middle East. Israel has nuclear weapons, and its rival Iran is suspected of developing them. Other Middle Eastern nations may resort to nuclear weapons as a response to Israel's and Iran's possession of them.

The Middle East can avoid the vicious cycle of nuclear proliferation, as one past example suggests. More than 40 years ago, the nations of Latin America also faced the threat of nuclear weapons in their region. In September 1962, Brazil called for a Latin American nuclear weapon-free zone. Just one month later, the Soviets placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. The resulting Cuban missile crisis almost led to a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The Soviet missiles were eventually removed, but the fear of nuclear war lingered. Latin American leaders urgently sought to prevent nations in their region from developing nuclear weapons or, like Cuba, hosting those of a superpower. As Mexico's state secretary for the foreign ministry, Alfonso García Robles, stated: "We want to eliminate even the slightest possibility that the scarce resources that we have might be wasted in a ruinous and manifestly absurd nuclear armaments race."

Bold action had to be taken to eliminate the nuclear threat before it was too late. With the Treaty of Tlatelolco in 1967, that goal was accomplished. Latin America is now a nuclear weapon free zone. The Latin American blueprint for regional nuclear disarmament ought to serve as a model for the Middle East.

With nuclear weapons in the hands of some of its nations, the volatile Middle East is a ticking time bomb. Israel's nuclear weapons add incentive for other nations in the region to acquire the same capability. Iran has been scolded by the international community for failure to accurately report its use of nuclear technology over the last two decades. This lack of disclosure has fueled suspicions of a clandestine Iranian nuclear weapons program. Should Iran ever possess nuclear weapons, the future government of Iraq may be tempted to do so as well. Like Latin America in the 1960's, the nations of the Middle East should comprehend the threat of nuclear weapons and take action.

In the midst of the Cuban missile crisis, Latin American delegates went to work on a nuclear weapon-free zone treaty. Many obstacles stood in their way. Some nations disagreed on how or when the treaty should enter into force. When a treaty was ready for signature, not every nation in the region signed or ratified it.

Latin American diplomats also faced the difficulty of convincing the nuclear powers to adhere to the treaty protocols. These protocols prohibited the superpowers from testing, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against Latin American states. Initially, the United States and other nuclear powers (Britain, France, Soviet Union) were unwilling to become full parties to the treaty.

Latin American diplomats knew that such a treaty would take time to develop and implement. They were wise to get started in 1963. Patient diplomacy was required to bring all the parties to the treaty into agreement. Alfonso García Robles put it best when he said, "We shall make haste slowly, but we shall make haste." García Robles became a leader in the drafting and organization of the treaty. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982 for his efforts in making Latin America a nuclear weapon-free zone.

As was the case with Latin America, freeing the Middle East from nuclear weaponry will not come about easily. There will be obstacles, perhaps many more than those faced in Latin America. For instance, Iranian officials have openly called for Israel's destruction. That is not a good starting point for negotiations. Israel does support a Middle East nuclear weapon-free zone, but only at the late stages of an overall Middle East peace process. Israel sees nuclear disarmament not as a step toward regional peace, but rather as an after-effect. In the 1960's Latin Americans saw nuclear weapons as a hindrance to peace and security.

Latin American leaders, such as Alfonso García Robles, understood what dangers lay ahead from nuclear proliferation. The leaders of the Middle East today must show the same foresight. Should the Middle East fail to act on a nuclear weapon free zone treaty, a nuclear sword will hang over them and the world for decades to come.



This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.

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C.R.W. - 1/13/2004

albeit, a bit retroactively, non-radioactive uranium (the unenriched portion) could be reconstituted from its hexafluoride intermediate, saved, and reformed back to mineral oxides with the appropriate concentration of oxidized U*235. Released back into the ores where they were mined. A closed circuit.

Now that's recycling. Didn't even need to use it.

C.R.W. - 1/13/2004

As far as the half-life of radioactive material goes, couldn't we find a way to efficiently disperse it across incredibly vast areas? After all, such a method would merely reverse the process of enrichment. The stuff (U*235) is not artificially produced; its relatively safe natural state is due to the fact that the offending isotope does not naturally exist in highly concentrated amounts - less than 1% of naturally occuring uranium.

Forgive me if today's warheads are primarily comprised of the artificial element, plutonium, yet I see no reason why a similar strategy could not be investigated. Long-term underground storage seems like an inherently faulty approach. Something's bound to go awry over thousands of years.

Adjusting the rate of dispersal over time, in a manner that accounts for the amount to be disposed, should decrease the potential for any acute exposure.

Peter N Kirstein - 1/13/2004

You should be my proofreader-in-residence. I am aware of the plural “Reductions” but I omitted the ‘s’.

On your second point, I disclaimed expertise on the mechanics of dismantling, but am less willing to concede all of your points. I was addressing Ms Malloy’s astute inquiry as to how warhead dismantling could be accomplished despite the interminable Half Lives of fissile materials such as plutonium. I wanted to demonstrate that nuclear weapons could be rendered inoperative regardless of their long-term radioactive releases.

You may be correct in your scenario, however. It would not surprise me if an MX or Minuteman III were removed from its “spider hole” and simply stored under a roof a few hundred yards away from the silo, or if a B83 gravity bomb were removed from a B-2A bomber and stuck in a hangar on base. I don’t think I excluded the possibility of your removal sequence but was trying to communicate how RVs (warheads) can be deactivated.

I would like to ask you to reveal your source on the actual SORT implementation mode that you described. I frankly have not encountered such a precise authoritative statement despite your saying "I think." I was positing a POSSIBLE scenario in which the Bush administration would avoid retiring their precious weapon systems by merely “storing” the monsters to comply with this sham of an arms control treaty.

We both agree on the outcome; I would like to know more about your certitude of the process.

S. O. RT - 1/13/2004

While I was suitably enlightened by this unusual colloquy on HNN, I think Mr. Kirstein should note the following:

You incorrectly described the SORT treaty, in one of your messages, as Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty. It should have been Strategic Offensive Reduction[s] Treaty.

On your last post, however, a more serious issue needs to be addressed. You imply that SORT is useless because warheads would be detached from their launchers and merely stored, not destroyed. I think that the entire system--boosters, missile and warheads will merely be relocated and not dismantled. Hence, I think you overestimate the degree of dismantling, which had you referred to it correctly, would have even added more fuel to your argumentation.

M. Y. Lai - 1/12/2004

I agree we never should have abandoned South Vietnam. We should have stayed and liberated them from Communism. In fact, as the great scholar Dr Chuck Norris developed in his films, we never should have abandoned the ARVN but killed another 3 million Charlie to show our resolve. Hey Ngo Dinh Diem was a great ally. Pagodas, Buddhists, students, secret policy, press freedoms. Yout bet. The Shah was equally devoted to American values of peace, freedom and democracy. We should have listened to Dr Kissinger and supported him until the end. Oh yes. Somoza was the grandest leader of all and represented such an elightened force for Central America.

Hey let's put Saddam on trial for war crimes and salute the great President Reagan who referred to Vietnam as a noble cause. As noble as anything Hitler did.

M. Y. Lai - 1/12/2004

I agree we never should have abandoned South Vietnam. We should have stayed and liberated them from Communism. In fact, as the great scholar Dr Chuck Norris developed in his films, we never should have abandoned the ARVN but killed another 3 million Charlie to show our resolve. Hey Ngo Dinh Diem was a great ally. Pagodas, Buddhists, students, secret policy, press freedoms. Yout bet. The Shah was equally devoted to American values of peace, freedom and democracy. We should have listened to Dr Kissinger and supported him until the end. Oh yes. Somoza was the grandest leader of all and represented such an elightened force for Central America.

Hey let's put Saddam on trial for war crimes and salute the great President Reagan who referred to Vietnam as a noble cause. As noble as anything Hitler did.

Dave Livingston - 1/12/2004

Israel should consider giving up its nuclear weapons only if it concludes that it, an outpost, an island, of Western civilization in a sea of Islamic hatred can rely upon an outside power, the United States, to guarantee its existence. Given the record of the United States of abandoning allies, the Shah, Somosa, South Viet-Nam, whenever it becomes more convenient to do so tather than stand by its commitments, the Israelis would be crazy to give up a weapon system that would offer national preservation in a last ditch situation.

In any event, it isn't difficult to develop and difficult to deliever nuclear weapons that most concerns me, rather it is the far more easily delievered biological ones that I see as the greater danger. Evidently, Saddam's government was seeking to develop biological weapons as well as nuclear ones.

Peter N Kirstein - 1/11/2004

Sure, no problem.

This is the SORT text for those who are interested:


Cathy Malloy - 1/10/2004

Thanks. This has been like a colloquium--very elevated. Perhaps I may email you additional inquiries.

Cathy Malloy

Peter N Kirstein - 1/10/2004

I think you know a tad more than you are letting on Ms Malloy! I am not schooled in the finery of weapon’s design, physics or dismantling mechanics to give you an “academic” answer. My job is to denounce the weapons, understand their history, and promulgate their immorality and debasement of the human condition. Note the disclaimers:

1) If you have a gun (warhead) and you remove the bullets, the gun is not operative.

2) If you have a gun and keep the bullets but merely remove it from your hip and place it in your closet, the gun is still operative.

1) Warheads do contain fissile materials (uranium and plutonium) plus hydrogen isotopes for H-bombs (deuterium and tritium for example). Pu 239 does have a Half Life of 24,000 years. Yet if you remove the nuclear material(fission or fusion) you have a warhead without the capacity to be used as a weapon. The fuses might be there, the triggering mechanisms might be there, maybe some conventional high explosives might be there, but not the nuclear materials.

2) If you merely detach the warhead which is on top of a missile and store it as a spare, on a rainy Strangelovian day, one can take the warhead and remount it on a missile. So fissile materials may last indefinitely, but if not embedded in a warhead, they can’t eliminate a city. The radioactive materials that you refer to are headed for Nevada. Why not take weapons grade materials and bury them at Yucca Mountain as well?

I stated incorrectly in my previous response that SORT was “unratified.” The Senate and Duma ratified it. I was probably thinking about SARS-- Strategic Arms Relocation Shenanigans.

Cathy Malloy - 1/10/2004

At the risk of being too demanding on your time Professor Kirstein, how can the Bush administration--believe me I am not in their camp!--destroy the warheads? Aren't warheads where the radioactive materials are? Don't radioactive materials last forever or at least indefinitely? Is not that why they are trying to find a place to dump all the radioactive waste from power plants?

So how can they be destroyed and if they can't be destroyed, it is appropriate to blame the Bush crowd for something that cannot be done?

Again, I share your skepticism of what this country does but I am trying to inform myself about these matters with all these threats about nuclear terrorism and dirty bombs or what have you.

Peter N Kirstein - 1/10/2004

It's Satrday morning. I meant 2012 not 2112 although by the later date, we will probably be in a continuous infatuation with these systems.

Peter N Kirstein - 1/10/2004

Assuming this is for me. Yes the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty does commit the US and Russia to reduce strategic weapons from between 1700-2200 by 2112. That would represent significant reductions from START levels of 6000. Yet the weapons aren’t destroyed; launchers that fire the weapons like missiles aren’t crushed. The warheads can be stored in grandma’s(pa’s) closet and simply redeployed at will. The evil warheads aren’t dismantled and made inoperative but put in storage. America loves its nukes so much, that even the potential of loose nukes being acquired by “terrorists” can’t persuade the US to destroy them. Empires like to keep the sword of Damocles razor sharp but empires do strike back!

Also, the Bush administration wants new nukes, wants the capacity to test nukes with a shorter lead-time and has already destroyed the ABM Treaty. The unratified SORT treaty allows termination with 3 months notice. Want to bet Ms Malloy on which country would most likely end SORT first? Hint, the one that lied to the US and the world about Iraqi WMD.


Peter N. Kirstein

Cathy Malloy - 1/9/2004

Thank you and while your last sentence is probably true about these aggressive neoconservatives, a colleague who has been following this told me to ask you this?

"Does not SORT prove that President Bush is adhering to Article V1 and is moving toward massive reductions in nuclear weapons?"

Peter N Kirstein - 1/9/2004

Ms Malloy,

Yes, usually one date accompanies treaties. The NPT was completed and finalized in 1968. It entered into force in 1970. The latter date has relevance because NPT-review conferences, that are mentioned by Mr/Ms Flum, are predicated on the latter and convene every five years. In 1995 it was agreed to extend the treaty indefinitely, and part of the bargain with the non-nuclear signatories, was repeated assurances from the US and other nuclear powers that Article VI would be addressed. It hasn't and as long as this president is in office, it won't.

C.R.W. - 1/9/2004

1. Your mother

2. Messed up worse

3. Can't you attack a more substantial point?

Cathy Malloy - 1/9/2004

I teach English literature and am NOT an expert on this material but if Professor Kirstein, or some other expert reads this, could he or she indicate why he placed two dates after the treaty that was described?

I usually see a single date on such matters and am a bug for details.

P Flum - 1/9/2004

CRW is uninformed. Bush never yanked US name from World Court which is what ICJ acronym stands for. You are thinking of the International Criminal Court.

1) Your anonymity
2) Your lack of information
3) Your crudity spells a candidate for frontpage.com discussion boards.

C.R.W. - 1/9/2004

There's not much in your post that's mentally coherent:

#1. Thanks to an 11th-hour change of policy, Bush had the foresight to yank America's name as a signatory to the ICJ. Israel already knew that given the kind of discrimination it has always faced, there was never any point to signing.

#2. It's hard to understand what kind of point you're trying to make in the last statement. I'm sure Israel has a sufficient amount of human capital to have developed the bomb all on its own sooner or later. However, if you want a picture of Chirac meeting with Saddam with both in lab suits surrounded by enrichment equipment, I could show you the link.

But given the fact that the brown/red/green bloc considered Israel more dangerous than Saddam, there's probably not much point.

#3. Israel seems to be doing fine "managing" its nukes on its own. Funny thing about self-defense; it only rears its head when attacked. Wonder why?

John Brennan - 1/9/2004

The French get what they deserve in this case. Toward whom do you think a good number of those missiles point? French fries, U-235 style.

P Flum - 1/9/2004

I meant North Korea.

P Flum - 1/9/2004

The International Court of Justice ruled unanimously in 1996. "There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament..."

Article VI is mentioned at each NPT review conference; India never joined because of it. Bush can't merely "reverse" nukes in Iran, PDRK ( South Korea) and yet "manage" it in Israel.

Yet for you proIsraeli zealots, you should thank the French who in 1956 gave Israel the bomb.

LA Dude - 1/8/2004

Disarmament never works. Those foolish leftists Nixon and Reagan with all their SALT and Pepper agreements wasted all of our time. Nuclear weapons don't kill, people kill. Give me cruise missiles or give me death !

C.R.W. - 1/8/2004

If only we could all magically transport ourselves back to the Stone Age. That way we could do away with that pesky assault weapons problem as well as nukes. Kill two birds with one stone.

No need for transparency when your honesty comes at the delusionally naive expense of assuming there's any such thing as a fool-proof mechanism for verifying it on the part of others, especially mass-murderers.

LA Dude - 1/8/2004

NYGuy claims that because Red China has 1,289 people while Egypt, for example, has only 72, we need to let Israelis and Palestinians resolve their problems locally (code words for stopping America's strong tradition of support for Israel's existence). Of course, by these statistics, if there is another SARS outbreak in China killing hundreds of people, Israel could soon surpass China in population. Still, it is dangerous to kowtow to Maoists as NYGuy does.

Peter N Kirstein - 1/8/2004

I think “Shocked” is somewhat ironic if not a little playful. However, a world without nuclear weapons would be safer than a world with nuclear weapons. One can’t guarantee that nuclear weapons will never be used as long as they are deployed. If they don’t exist, they can’t be used. Obviously, arriving at the number zero or a very few number, would require significant transparency and international control monitoring.

Unilateral nuclear disarmament is not what Article VI contemplates. Efforts at multilateral disarmament and a reduction of nuclear weapons far below the current stockpile are moral and ethically responsible. The US has reduced its stockpile since the end of the Cold War, but without going into an elaborate treatise here, has shamefully avoided taking measures to drastically reduce both the numbers and appropriate disincentives for would be proliferators.

The orthodox thinking of our national security managers is that nuclear weapons confer great prestige upon the US, and fail to see the monstrous evil such indiscriminate weapons systems represent as we desperately try to move from a culture of threat, deterrence and confrontation to one of embracing meaningful disarmament and cooperation.

Shocked - 1/8/2004

Professor, Are you advocating that the US eliminate all of its nuclear weapons? Did you really believe it is professionally responsible to make such a statement?

C.R.W. - 1/7/2004

You bring up some good points, Jesse,

You're probably right that the degree of military cooperation between us and the Israelis as it currently stands is sufficient to fulfill the interests of both countries, while avoiding the potentially detrimental obligations of being bound in a treaty like NATO.

As for Iran's intentions, and the degree to which Rafsanjani speaks for them, I find it hard to disagree with his statement that a single strike (or at most, three) would completely incapacitate Israel. Depending upon how many Arab partners would decide to join him on this venture (which admittedly doesn't look like many at all - at the present moment), the ability on Iran & co.'s part to absorb any retaliations which might be pulled off within enough time, he correctly notes, is much greater. However, given their current level of cooperation with Hizbollah and other groups, and given their willingness to engage large-scale terrorist acts at any distance (including the bombing of an entire building in Argentina), I think a suitcase bomb or dirty bomb, if employed, would be the preferred modus operandi.

A non-conventional tactic, but just as deserving of the kind of retaliation Israel is right to threaten. The largest reservation I would see on their part is the current lack of conventionally allied Arab support to broaden Israel's counter-strike range. Whatever ministry actually controls Iran's military is too covert for me to assume that diplomatic considerations alone would prevent such a move. However, being a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy whose official policy of destroying Israel is wedded into its foundations as a state, I don't see much reason to assume that diplomatic goodwill alone is sufficent to trump this goal. Not in the long run (assuming overthrow doesn't occur first).

Peter N. Kirstein - 1/7/2004

I found many of these posts to be highly informative. I would like to make a final response here. When discussing nuclear proliferation, it should not be forgotten that the NPT does require the five nuclear weapons states to end the arms race and achieve at an early date total nuclear disarmament. Article VI obligates them to this end and even the Bush administration has not yet jettisoned the NPT.

It strikes me as the height of arrogance for the US, that uses WMD--cluster bombs, napalm, sanctions against civilian populations--and which wants to develop new low-yield weapons and RNEP, to proclaim its primary declaratory policy as WMD disarmament. The disparity between US declaratory policy for others and action policy for itself is perhaps the inevitable hauteur of an superpower blinded by its Cold War victory, and unable to see alternative visions to its approach to global affairs.

The battle continues.

Ryan - 1/7/2004

Jesse Lamovsky - 1/7/2004


I don't share your sanguine analysis of the prospects of Israel joining NATO, for a number of reasons. Among them:

1.) Although support for Israel among the American electorate is generally high, a signed agreement obligating the U.S. to come to the military defense of a country which has been involved in five all-out wars, two intifadas, and one war of attrition in the last half-century might be a tough sell to the voters and their elected representitives. Good- the wisdom of putting American boys in places like the Gaza Strip escapes me.

2.) As long as the situation in the West Bank and Gaza remains as it is, there is precious little chance that the European members of NATO (the maverick Burlusconi's comments aside) will accede to Israel's becoming a member.

3.) Maximalist elements of the Israeli political spectrum would object to any agreement which might tie the country's hands on the territorial questions, or on the acceptable uses of the military option in response to terrorist attacks and whatnot. It's hard to imagine Israel yielding any degree of control over the IDF to an outside power, be it NATO or the United States.

By the way, if Iran does develop a nuclear weapon, it will be more for political and regional prestige-related reasons than for the purpose of wiping out Tel Aviv with the push of a button. Let's not get carried away here.

NYGuy - 1/6/2004

The last paragraphs, 2-4, etc should have been deleted.


NYGuy - 1/6/2004

On Professor Peter N. Kirstein comments:

1)I agree with #1, Israeli nuclear weapons cannot be used offensively and are not a deterrent against conventional attacks. But as Caleb says it gives it enemies’ second thoughts. My own thoughts on this matter are that too much world wide attention has been paid to the Palestine/Israeli situation and has inflamed the world. Better they now resolves their problems locally.

2)The effort to eliminate WMD in the region and in the world is a global one not a local one. The burden therefore is not on the US alone since nuclear and WMD issues are now just as important for many other of the leading countries in the world.

3) Any discussion of using nuclear weapons in the Mid-East, as in North Korea is just posturing by the leaders of these countries. As the Professor says it would make little sense to acquire nuclear weapons for a first strike. Meanwhile the leading countries in the world are now creating disincentives for nuclear proliferation in the region as well in the rest of the world.

4) The US is currently leading a multilateral disarmament crusade throughout the world. It is also lowering both the nuclear and hatred temperature in the Mid-East by not putting the Palestine/Israeli issue on the world stage reducing the need or desire for nuclear or WMD retaliations.

But, it has to be recognized that the Mid-East is only a small part of the changes occurring on the nuclear and WMD scene. To see this one must use a top down analysis and not a bottom up approach. With the rapid growth of countries in Asia becoming more economically viable and more vocal is reducing the importance of both Europe and the Mid-East in world affairs. The Asian countries have larger populations, they are experiencing accelerated growth rates in computers and telecommunications, they are raising their standards of living and trade with others. With these new found freedoms and prosperity these countries are not anxious to have small rogue states develop nuclear and WMD threats that threaten their future.

A review of the estimated world population in 2003 follows:
1 China 1,289
2 India 1,069
3 United States 292
4 Indonesia 220
5 Brazil 176
6 Pakistan 149
7 Bangladesh 147
8 Russia 146
9 Nigeria 134
10 Japan 128
11 Mexico 105
12 Germany 83
13 Philippines 82
14 Vietnam 81
15 Egypt 72
16 Turkey 71
17 Ethiopia 71
18 Iran 67
19 Thailand 63
20 France 60

This table shows the top 10 countries in the world, many of which are now emerging economically and are interested in providing their people with a decent, and improving standard of living, peace and increasing their world wide role in economic trade. To do this they must insure that nuclear and WMD are not used by small rogue nations to threaten and destabilize the world. With the UN debating society on the sidelines, these top 10 countries are now laying down the law that rogue states will not be tolerated, particularly those in the Mid-East.

They are also saying that small groups of disgruntled terrorists are not going to hold the world hostage. This new view of the world is one of the major benefits of Bush’s stopping Iraq and Afghanistan terrorism and showing the world a new way to exist.

Moral suasion will now replace confrontation unless the peg that stands out wants to be a destructive force, in which case all of the above countries will see that the peg is pounded down. Nuclear proliferation for smaller, rogue countries is now just a waste of money and will only lead to such countries being left behind in the 21st Century.

2) If the laudable efforts of the United States to eliminate WMD from the region is to be credible, it must be applied to all states in the region.

3) Occasionally, Israel does discuss attacking Iran in a preemptive manner should it acquire nuclear weapons. Perhaps that is the context under which the above scenario in one of the posts should be construed. It would make little sense for Iran—which does not possess nuclear weapons—to acquire them and initiate a first strike against Israel. It would lead to national suicide. It does make sense to create an additional disincentive for horizontal nuclear proliferation to eliminate them from the sole nuclear state in the region.

4)In a broader sense, such action would demonstrate that the US is not waging a unilateral disarmament crusade against Islam, and that America's pro-Likud orientation, which is such a dire threat to US national security, is being modified with a more balanced and prudent approach.

Much of the motivation behind the September 11 attacks emanated from a perception that the US is at war with Islam and that Israel is its proxy state in the region. Consistency in pursuing WMD elimination might modify that perception.

C.R.W. - 1/6/2004

After all, since when is nearby Turkey in the "North Atlantic"? Greece?

Tom Friedman recently brought up the point that integrating Israel and perhaps two other Arab countries who are very much on our good side add a bit to regional stability (as we see it, not the French) and offer a carrot (as well as a potential stick) for others to consider. Murder-suicide attacks just might be a bit less likely, seeing as how they have now been identified by some as a crime against humanity, after all, and I don't know if Berlusconi's recent tongue-and-cheek wooing of Israel into the E.U. (they're considered part of Europe in many other international blocs), was seen as a possible security carrot.

As far as Chebaa Farms goes, I seem to remember that Hizbollah gets their support from, wait no - is practically a proxy for... could it be?... Iran! I think they're far enough outside the fallout zone and their zealous pursuit of an "Islamic Bomb" with which to solve what they see as the major problem in the Middle East, namely Israel's right to exist, proves that their proximity to the Zionist entity is not close enough to bother Rafsanjani, either.

Caleb - 1/6/2004

You raise an excellent point, Jesse.

Jesse Lamovsky - 1/6/2004

Dr. Kirstein,

Some comments on your first point:

Agreed that Israel's nukes are indeed "of little value strategically or tactically". The State's chief military threats operate either within a few miles of Israel or inside Israel/IDF-controlled territory. Nobody in Jerusalem wants to irradiate the Chebaa Farms, or Jenin for that matter. It is on a political level that the weapons are priceless, and it is for political reasons that the Israelis won't give up them any time soon.

Here is where Israel's much-lauded democratic system may prove a hindrance to the hopes of those who want a "nuclear-free" zone in the Middle East. One doubts that any party is going to garner many votes in Israel by pledging to hand over the nukes to the UN, or to Washington, or whoever. Perhaps a statesman could pull it off... but there aren't any statesmen in Israel these days.

If the security of the United States is a factor here (and one hopes it comes into consideration), than Washington may be better off not pursuing the matter of Israel's nuclear weapons. Jerusalem would demand a quid pro quo which, in all likelihood, would be a "mutual" defense agreement, on the order of NATO, between the United States and the State of Israel. Does anyone think this would be a good idea?

Caleb - 1/6/2004

I agree with points #2 and #4 that you make in your post, but do not believe that Arab sensibility should drive American (or Israeli) policy. However, I disagree with #1 and #3 for the following reasons:

1) "The possession of nuclear weapons by Israel is of little value strategically or tactically."

I agree in part... it is no use tactically, but strategically, it plays an important role. Although nuclear weapons cannot deter terrorist attacks (obviously), it might be able to act against those countries in the region who demonstrate a visceral hatred for the Jewish state and seek its destruction but are equally concerned with self-preservation. The sheer possession of nuclear weapons demonstrates to every country in the world that Israel's destruction is no longer a military possibility as it might otherwise be.

3) "Occasionally, Israel does discuss attacking Iran in a preemptive manner should it acquire nuclear weapons."

Any discussions of an Israeli attack would mirror what it did to Iraq's nuclear facility in the 1980's, not a direct threat to the viability of an Iranian government. An Arab attack on Israel, in contrast, would not be a pinprick to disarm it as a threat, but a massive invasion to destroy it.

3) (cont.) "It would make little sense for Iran—which does not possess nuclear weapons—to acquire them and initiate a first strike against Israel. It would lead to national suicide."

Your premise assumes that the leadership of Iran (or any country in the region) would be concerned with traditional deterrence. Clearly, the Taliban showed no such deterrence, nor do the mass of people protesting in the streets of the Arab world for jihad against America and Israel. Today, the governments of Pakistan and Iran are far to sensible for such a suicidal move... tomorrow, they may not be. That is why it is so important to keep in mind that Israel, as a democracy, is not the same as Iran, a theocracy.

If ever a country needed the nuclear bomb as a protection against possible annihilation, surely it is Israel. If, on the other hand, Israel had no need for such a weapon, then surely no other country on earth has the moral right to posses it. Israel stands alone as to the threat it faces and the consequence of defeat. To argue that Israel has no right to have the bomb is to argue that no one on earth does, a contention that I do not share.

Peter N. Kirstein - 1/6/2004

I make four points.
1) The possession of nuclear weapons by Israel is of little value strategically or tactically. The weapons cannot be used and are not a deterrent against conventional attack—witness the attacks of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups seeking Palestinian liberation.

2) If the laudable efforts of the United States to eliminate WMD from the region is to be credible, it must be applied to all states in the region.

3) Occasionally, Israel does discuss attacking Iran in a preemptive manner should it acquire nuclear weapons. Perhaps that is the context under which the above scenario in one of the posts should be construed. It would make little sense for Iran—which does not possess nuclear weapons—to acquire them and initiate a first strike against Israel. It would lead to national suicide. It does make sense to create an additional disincentive for horizontal nuclear proliferation to eliminate them from the sole nuclear state in the region.

4)In a broader sense, such action would demonstrate that the US is not waging a unilateral disarmament crusade against Islam, and that America's pro-Likud orientation, which is such a dire threat to US national security, is being modified with a more balanced and prudent approach.

Much of the motivation behind the September 11 attacks emanated from a perception that the US is at war with Islam and that Israel is its proxy state in the region. Consistency in pursuing WMD elimination might modify that perception.

Caleb - 1/6/2004

Thank you for the article C.R.W. The source of it gives even greater legitimacy to the threat Israel faces.

C.R.W. - 1/6/2004

I'd like to commend Peter Kirstein on his immense wealth of knowledge in the way of Iranian foreign and military policy:

"If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world", Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the crowd at the traditional Friday prayers in Tehran.

Analysts said not only Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s speech was the strongest against Israel, but also this is the first time that a prominent leader of the Islamic Republic openly suggests the use of nuclear weapon against the Jewish State.

"It seems that Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani is forgetting that due to the present intertwinement of Israel and Palestine, the destruction of the Jewish State would also means the mass killing of Palestinian population as well", observed one Iranian commentator.

While Israel is believed to possess between 100 to 200 nuclear war heads, the Islamic Republic and Iraq are known to be working hard to produce their own atomic weapons with help from Russia and North Korea, Pakistan, also a Muslim state, has already a certain number of nuclear bomb.

In a lengthy speech to mark the so-called "International Qods (Jerusalem) Day" celebrated in Iran only, Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who, as the Chairman of the Assembly to Discern the Interests of the State, is the Islamic Republic’s number two man after Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, said since Israel was an emanation of Western colonialism therefore "in future it will be the interests of colonialism that will determine existence or non-existence of Israel".

Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani made the unprecedented threat as, following new suicide operations inside Israel and against Israeli settlements by Palestinian extremists in PA-controlled zones, responded by Israel’s heaviest bombarding of Palestinian cities, police, communication and radio-television installations, killing and wounding more than 200 people on both sides, resulted in the halting of all contacts between Israel and the PA of Mr. Yaser Arafat.

He said since Israel is the product of Western colonialism, "the continued existence of Israel depends on interests of arrogance and colonialism and as long as the base is helpful for colonialism, it is going to keep it.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani advised Western states not to pin their hopes on Israel's violence because it will be "very dangerous".

"We are not willing to see security in the world is harmed", he said, warning against the "eruption of the Third World War.

"War of the pious and martyrdom seeking forces against peaks of colonialism will be highly dangerous and might fan flames of the World War III", the former Iranian president said, backing firmly suicide operations against Israel.

Quoted by the official news agency IRNA, Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said weakening of Palestinian Jihad is "unlikely", as the Palestinians have come to the conclusion that talks would be effective only "in light of struggle and self-sacrifice- the two key elements that gave way to beginning of the second Intifada".
Iranian analysts and commentators outside Iran immediately reacted to Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s statement, expressing fear that it might trigger an international backlash against Iran itself, giving Israel, the United States and other Western and even Arab nations to further isolate Iran as a source of threat to regional security.
"Jews shall expect to be once again scattered and wandering around the globe the day when this appendix is extracted from the region and the Muslim world", Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani warned, blaming on the United States and Britain the "creation of the fabricated entity" in the heart of Arab and Muslim world.

"The man who considers himself as the most able politician in the Islamic Republic utters such nonsense and empty threats at a very time that the hard line and extremist government of Israel under Mr. Ariel Sharon is looking for justification of its repressive policy against Palestinians", said Mr. Ahmad Salamatian, a veteran political analyst based in Paris.

"At a time that the right wing Israeli government is claiming that the very existence of Israel and the Jews are threatened and uses this pretext as an instrument to advance its policy of repression in Palestine, such statements and ushering such dangerous menaces by one of Iran’s top officials is nothing but bringing water to Israel’s propaganda mill, providing it with more justifications explaining its present maximalist policy", he told the Persian service of Radio France Internationale.

Though Mr. Salamatian is of the opinion that Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s words are part of both his own show and the ongoing internal tensions between conservatives and reformers, however, he also agrees with other Iranian analysts that his "untimely" menace could backfire, becoming a justification for threats against Iran, at a time that the United States and its allies are determined to continue the fight against international terrorism.

"One of Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s main characteristics in Iranian politics during the past twenty years is that in order to preserve his own position, he is ready to set fire to all the Caesareas for one handkerchief, including, in the present case, providing Israel with enough pretext to attack Iran", he noted, adding: "for the time being and what is important for Mr. Sharon is that this kind of statements are open invitation for more violence, an encouragement to extremists on either side of the Israel-Palestine conflict".

Observing that despite the fact that Israel is believed to have more than one hundred atomic warheads and the necessary technology to transport them to the very heart of Iran and elsewhere, but no Israeli official nor any newspaper have ever raised the slightest possibility of an atomic threat, "even in defence of their very existence", Mr. Salamatian wondered the reasons behind Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s declaration, which he said should be taken seriously "considering the rank of the man who pronounced it". ENDS RAFSANJANI NUKE THREATS 141201

- Iran Press Service. Dec. 14, 2001.

David - 1/6/2004

You're assuming that a disarmed Israel contributes in any way to stability, when the exact opposite is true. Do you think the Arab nations, from the goodness of their own hearts, will choose not to attack Israel? Or is Israel's military superiority what keeps those countries at bay? Don't feed us we are the world, peacenik bromides and expect us to swallow them uncritically.

David - 1/6/2004

Israel will disarm when other nuclear democracies disarm.

The anti-Israel crowd is eager to raise the issue of Israel's nukes now that Saddam and Gaddafi have been disarmed, as if they are equivalent.

Since when is a democracy, the only one in the region, to be accorded the same treatment we do tyrannical dictatorships? Ridiculous. Since when do we treat our allies the same as we treat hostile regimes? Again, ludicrous. And that's exactly what the "disarm Israel" crowd would have us do--treat Israel the way we do Saddam, Gaddafi, and your run-of-the-mills tin pot dictator.

As if nukes falling into the hands of a Saddam or Assad or Gaddafi is equivalent to nukes in the hands of the Knesset. Nothing strikes me as more ridiculous than to make that analogy.

Arab/muslim countries have stated again and again, and have demonstrated on the ground, their desire to overrun the jewish state. Israel has never made similar threats, and has only fought defensive wars. You can't run away from these facts, no matter how much you hate Israel. To attempt to draw analogies between the two is simply RIDICULOUS.

NYGuy - 1/6/2004

The actions against Iraq and the movement to push the UN aside has set the stage for controlling nuclear and other WMD in the 21st Century. The Mid-East will be a primary beneficiary of these actions.

It has taken the future of the world out of the hands of a bunch of small countries who thrive on hatred and make the world unsafe and put our future in the hands of the majority of the world’s population and their leaders.

For the 21st Century the Japanese saying that the peg that stands out will be pounded down is now the driving force for world peace. As a result the world is now in a position to use “moral suasion” by the world leaders to achieve the restrictions needed on destructive actions. This is not an “empire building” effort on the part of the world’s largest countries and their leaders it is just common sense by those who realize the major changes occurring in the current century. Endless debating by the UN provides no leadership for the world and only encourages small groups to engage in terrorism to carry out their hatred.

For Pakistan and India Musharraf said:

"There are no winners or losers," Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said later. "I think victory is for the world — for all those peace-loving people of the world. Victory is for all the people of India and Pakistan."

And in North Korea whe see a disagreement being handled by several world leaders and not a one on one battle of wills.

"There were hopes a new six-nation round could open early this year. But Russian and South Korean officials said Monday that talks probably would not happen this month, citing differences between the Washington and Pyongyang as well as scheduling difficulties around the Russian Christmas holiday and the Chinese Lunar New Year, both of which come in January."


India, Pakistan to Begin Peace Dialogue

By PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press Writer

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - India and Pakistan took a giant leap to put more than a half-century of bloodshed behind them, agreeing Tuesday to start talks next month on core disputes of nationalism and religion that have taken the nuclear-armed nations into three wars.

N. Korea Offers to Halt Nuke Facilities

By SOO-JEONG LEE, Associated Press Writer

SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea (news - web sites) offered Tuesday to freeze its nuclear program, including weapons and power development, to help rekindle talks on the standoff over its arms programs, while a delegation of Americans left for the communist country to possibly tour a disputed nuclear plant.

Perhaps we are already following the Latin America model.

LA Dude - 1/5/2004

The government of Israel has never acknowledged having nuclear weapons, and we all know they would never deceive anyone about their intentions regarding WMD, arms for hostages, or anything else. Israel is a small, brave country of Auschwitz survivors valiantly defending itself with crude homemade weapons against the never-ending onslaught of the always unified Arab-terrorist hordes, goose-stepping under their swastika banners. Israel has no WMD, but if our U.S. Congress wasn't so soft on terrorism, it would authorize stationing of American nuclear forces there to defend our greatest ally of all eternity.

Peter N. Kirstein - 1/5/2004

It is rare that authors who write about the current nuclear danger mention critically the Israeli stockpile. US policy has generally been one of disarming Muslim states that it has conflict with and ignoring the Israeli arsenal that can also be construed as destabilizing.

There is little doubt that Israeli denuclearization, on the model of South Africa's, would contribute significantly in stemming horizontal proliferation. Israel is only one of three nations not to ratify the NPT, so the prospects of this nation behaving in a manner that is conducive to international peace and security is remote.

Mr Lambers should be commended for his efforts.

Caleb - 1/5/2004

I am sympathetic to the cause for nuclear disarmament and believe that nuclear proliferation will possibly be the largest problem of the 21st century. Nevertheless, I cannot bring myself to ask Israel to disarm even though I believe other countries in the region should. Does that make my a hypocrite? I think not and here is why:

1) There is no evidence that Israel would use its nuclear weapon arbitrarily against any adversary. Like Britain, the United States, and France, Israel is a modern democracy and possible the least likely to use the bomb in any way other than an alternative to total annihilation.

2) Because Israel is a Democracy, it is less likely than its neighbors to yield totally unpredictable changes in government in a very short period of time. On the other hand, if, for example, Musharaf of Pakistan, were to be assassinated, the country could be transformed into an Islamic State, or a totalitarian state, who knows? In any event, the totally unpredictable government that follows Musharaf will be a nuclear power and this not a pleasant thought.

3) Israel stands alone in the region as to the threat it faces. Unlike Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc., there is no realistic risk that their countries will be destroyed, and their people slaughtered. Even the military invasion of Iraq demonstrates that, at worst, governments and dictators might rise and fall, militaries could be vanquished, but the people, the culture still have a future. The goal of Israel’s enemies is not territorial concessions, but total domination of the entire country, and the likely annihilation of the Jewish people living there. This danger is unique to Israel, whose very existence is a point of debate in even the Western world.

For the above reasons, I personally would support any program that would demand full disarmament of Middle Eastern States, but excluding Israel for the above stated reasons. Nuclear weapons are not toys to be acquired out of entitlement like feuding siblings often demand. The fact that country X has one does not mean that country Y must then be allowed to acquire them. Whoever possesses such power has the ability to destroy the world at worst, to blackmail it at best. Israel has demonstrated through its history and government structure that it would not take is awesome power for granted. Much of the other countries in the region, on the other hand, have made no such demonstration.