What if US & UN Sanctioned Israel over its Nukes as they did Iran over Enrichment?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

There is a lot of talk about nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and the ways in which an Iranian bomb would provoke Saudi Arabia and others to acquire nuclear warheads of their own.

But for decades, the primary impetus to a nuclear arms race in the region has been Israel, which probably had an atom bomb by about 1970. It was helped behind the scenes by France and Britain– which actively proliferated nuclear weapons to Israel.

It was Israel’s bomb that, in part, impelled Iraq to go for broke. Iraq’s nuclear weapons program of the 1980s in turn convinced some in Iran that Iran needed at least a nuclear break-out capacity if two of its enemies were going to have bombs. Since Israel destroyed an Iraqi light water reactor, OSIRAK, in 1981 (which had been built by the French and could not easily have been used to produce fissile material), when Iran began its experiments in uranium enrichment, it kept them secret lest Tel Aviv send out F-14s.

Ideally, the whole Middle East should be an atomic bomb- free region. The area has enough horrible problems without a weapon of mass destruction. But the UN Security Council has treated Israel very differently from the way they treated Iran. For centuries, Europeans have been held to different standards and different rules than have peoples of the Global South. Israel as a “European” country was allowed to get a nuclear bomb, indeed was helped to do so, and no sanctions were ever applied to it. Iran was targeted for economic warfare just for having an enrichment program.

Now that Iran is being constrained by a strict inspections regime and limitations on centrifuges from ever weaponizing its civilian enrichment program, what if the United Nations Security Council turned its attention to decommissioning Israel’s stock of several hundred warheads?

If Britain, France, Russia, China and the USA decided Israel would have to give up its nukes, as a means of ensuring non-proliferation in the Middle East, how would they proceed?

On analogy from the sanctions imposed on Iran, we could see the UNSC pass a resolution demanding that Israel sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (as Iran has).

Then they demand that Israel allow inspectors in to Dimona.

Then they demand that Israel destroy its stockpile of atomic bombs.

When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu loudly and cheekily defies the world body, the UNSC moves to the next stage.

The European Union, with which Israel does a third of its trade, begins boycotting Israeli-made goods and Israeli companies.

China joins suit, drastically reducing its imports from Israel and curtailing contracts to Israeli firms.

As Netanyahu’s defiance grows louder and more strident, and he begins threatening the five permanent members of the Security Council, the UNSC takes a dim view of his bluster.

Israel is kicked off the SWIFT bank exchange and excluded from the alternative Chinese one. Israeli foreign trade plummets as sellers find it impossible to receive shekels for the goods they send to Israel. It is difficult to buy Israeli products because there is no easy way to pay Israeli businesses for them. Buyers turn to other producers of similar products in other countries.

Israeli exports are cut in half. The country is forced to trade with some poor Asian and African countries that do no care about the UNSC, but must barter for their inferior made goods.

The shekel falls from roughly $.25 to only an American dime. The Israeli middle class can suddenly no longer afford to vacation in Europe or the United States. Egyptian and Turkish beaches are off limits because those countries joined the boycott, hoping for a denuclearized Middle East.

Haaretz runs an editorial pointing out that Israel has an American nuclear security umbrella and asking why the country needs its own stockpile.

Netanyahu stages a photo op standing atop stacked nuclear warheads, waving a cowboy hat above his head in imitation of Slim Pickens in the film, “Dr. Strangelove.”

The shekel falls to five cents against the dollar. Israelis find it difficult to afford some important medicines because of their high cost, and some patients die as a result. Many Israelis begin moving to France, Germany and Sweden, tired of trying to scrape a living together in an increasingly dilapidated Tel Aviv, beset with potholes and crumbling buildings.

In new elections, Isaac Herzog becomes prime minister and announces a willingness to negotiate with President Michelle Obama’s Secretary of State.

The Security Council insists that Israel sign the NPT and accept wide-ranging and surprise IAEA inspections. The destruction of its stockpile of atomic bombs begins.

Other Middle East states, having seen what happened to Iran and Israel, affirm that they have no interest in nuclear weaponry. Most now in any case get their power not from reactors but from solar farms, which generate electricity at 2 cents a kilowatt hour. Cheap power and fewer military expenses have made them prosperous. They implore Israel to join their ranks and also to accept the 2002 Arab League peace plan.

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Related video:

Zero Hour with E.J. Eskow: “Pentagon Finally Admits Israel’s Got the Bomb (w/ William Greider)”

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33 Responses

  1. Love it. Especially President Michelle Obama. She would be the successor to President Jeb Bush who was elected following the impeachment of President Hillary Clinton?

    • Twenty years sound plausible, since fate is bound to soften up Israeli over their years and it’ll take at least that long for sufficient electoral reform to stymy AIPAC etal .

      We also have to consider whether Chelsea beats Michelle for POTUS or maybe she’s VP.

  2. The review of history and facts with which you start this piece is an excellent reminder, which should have been frequently mentioned in the MSM’s coverage of this topic. Instead, we got extraordinary amounts of propaganda and heated rhetoric, consistently served with the hypocrisy and dishonesty of ignoring Israel’s aggression and its nuclear weapons. The U.S. also helped Israel’s nuclear program, though the full story has never been declassified. We don’t know whether LBJ approved sending nuclear material from a plant in Pennsylvania to Israel, or some other high official did so, or if it was a rogue operation by people who felt more loyalty to Israel than to the U.S.

  3. Now that Netanyahu has insisted that Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist as part of a final settlement on the nuclear issue, I’d like to see Zarif respond by insisting that Israel sign the NPT as part of a final settlement.

    • I would also like to see Zarif/Rouhani hold up a cartoon bomb at the next UN conference, and accuse Israel of having nuclear weapons already. Wouldn’t that be funny!

    • I think a far more effective retort would be for Zarif to ask if anyone wants him to throw in a pony as well….

      …one with girlie tassles, perhaps, and wrapped up in big pink ribbons.

  4. Professor Cole – Much of what you write in this “what if” would be welcome – But I suspect that the (very) odd person out is Clinton. Surely we and the world can do better. I have no more expectation of Clinton’s willingness — indeed of her ability — to work through, grasp, and act in rational consistency with your von Moltke piece than of McCain’s. Talk about a blinkered view of reality — does Clinton grasp that there is a reality beyond her self-serving verbal eruptions?

  5. Juan, I think you mean F-15s and F-16s, not F-14s.

    Iran is the only country in the world still operating the F-14. The U.S. retired theirs during the previous decade.

  6. Not as fictional as many might think.

    Israel is facing a huge generational demographic time bomb around the globe. The humans born during and just after WW2 are rapidly retiring and becoming less active in national power dynamics and even more important, they are dying off due to age related causes.

    To the population born in the late 1960s and later, WW2 and the establishment of Israel is ancient history and given all the strife caused by Israel, many consider Israel to be a bad nation. The younger population is also much less religious than the older generations and tend to discount any discussion points based on religion.

    As the younger generation moves into positions of power around the globe, Israel’s standard messaging is going to fall on deaf ears and attitudes about Israel will shift, slowly at first, but once it reaches a tipping point, Israel’s future will become very dark, very quickly.

    I suspect that Bibi will be the last Israeli leader to have any audience outside Israel because the USA republican party is also facing the same demographic time bomb. The weird thing is some of the republican leadership knows they are facing a dark future but can not figure out how to move the party away from the extremely disliked values the party currently has. Even though the social conservatives are a declining part of the USA population, the republicans can’t figure out a way to tell them that they can no longer set the republican party agenda and they will just have to learn to live in the 21st century.

    While the scenario will probably not play out as Mr. Cole writes, I think Israel is going to have some rude shocks in the near future and will discover that 7 million people eventually have to bow to the will of 7 billion. Yes, Israeli egos are going to take quite a hit.

  7. I am very sorry for the people of Iran. They lost the only deterrent they have. Regardless of who rules Iran people of Iran the have a right to defend themselves. To the East lies nuclear armed Pakistan which tacitly approves genocide against its own Shia minority; to the East there is Israel that threatens to bomb Iran; to the South there is 5th fleet and Saudi Arabia which has the world’s largest military budget. And then there is ISIL which wants to kill Iranian infidels en mass and dismember it. War mongers in Washington are heartened now that they see Iran’s surrender. This deal will make aggression against Iran more likely. Sorry for an ancient civilization that won’t be around for much longer.

    • Somehow I think that the BRICS’ members, especially Russia and China, will push some of their weight around, diplomatically and otherwise, enough that is for the war mongers having their crosshairs pointing on Iran to start thinking anew before seeing
      their military position knocked down by important reactionary population segments in their own countries…

    • “They lost the only deterrent they have.”

      I think not. The indigestion that the US military suffered in the occupation of Iraq post-2003 provides all the deterrent Iran needs.

      You know, seein’ as how it is four times the size, and has four times the popln, and would – without a doubt – prove to be well over four times tougher to chew up than Iraq.

  8. The Party is an unnatural coalition of corporate aristocrats holding their noses and self-righteous red necks. When moderates want a change they shouldn’t have to swing to right radicals.

    And yes, we’re dealing with world-class egos.

    • The Republican party’s unnatural coalition is under increasing stress. The somewhat more moderate Jeb Bush just did a two day flip-flop on the Indiana law but Mike Huckabee, an evangelical preacher, blamed the “militant gay community” for the Indiana backlash. Right now, the party backs Bibi Netanyahu against Obama’s Iran deal, but how long before the domestic concerns provoke a bigger split?

      The GOP would be much smaller without millions of evangelical voters. No guns and no bibles means no real power.

  9. No so far off. At least for the first half of the scenario.

    About twenty years ago there was a brief initiative to declare a Mideast Nuclear Free Zone, where all of the states would pledge not to develop nuclear weapons, or permit their basing or transit. Israel was the notable nonparticipant. Of course, the initiative was largely a political and public opinion ploy, but it was highly instructive.

    Israel is able to do as they do mainly because of the political, military and financial support they receive from the US. That, and lingering guilt of western nations that fomented, and refused to give the slightest attention to, the Holocaust. But Israel now uses it’s moral position and history more as a blackmailer, than as a friend. Consequently, they have few genuine champions. And they now treat the Palestinians much as Jews were once treated in Europe. Consequently, once staunch allies are now looking for polite means to distance themselves.

    Israel, and other nuclear nations, should pause and take notice of the reality that nuclear weapons have very limited viability. They do seem effective in deterring existential conflict. But they do not deter other forms of conventional and nonconventional warfare. And the nation that next uses a nuclear weapon will become a pariah, and lose its sovereign viability. Such a nation would be compelled to dismiss its government, and likely become a ward of the UN for generations.

    • “Of course, the initiative was largely a political and public opinion ploy, but it was highly instructive.”

      That’s not the way Richard Butler tells it. Butler negotiated the 1995 extension of the NPT; Iran, Egypt, KSA & al were around his dining table when the promise — PROMISE — was made that if the Arab and Islamic states would agree to extend NPT, then a conference would be convened to discuss a nuclear free zone in the region.

      Dan Joyner updates the promise here — link to armscontrollaw.com

  10. Top of the bestseller charts that week was “Netanyahu: The Man who Destroyed Israel” (by one of the good Professor’s distinuguished students, of course).

  11. what if israel were asked to join the npt and recognize the palastinians right to exist!

    • Renowned U.S. nuclear physicist Edward Teller, a close friend of PM David Ben-Gurion, warned Israel NEVER to sign the NPT unless they intended to perform obligations imposed by the treaty.

      Teller had warned CIA deputy director Carl Duckett in the late 1960s that Israel intended to build a nuclear arsenal, but DCI Richard Helms did not convey this information to LBJ until a year later.

      Israel’s accession to the Atoms For Peace program in 1957 and its joint atomic energy research with France and construction of the Dimona nuclear reactor facility were cover for its secret nuclear weapons program, which could have never been initiated and progressed while complying with NPT obligations.

      It was not until the early to mid-1960s that DeGaulle and Israel’s own civilian nuclear regulatory authority had suspicions that the Israeli national security apparatus was trying to construct a nuclear arsenal – but the absence of NPT inspections and the granting of only very limited access to American inspectors effectively thwarted international confirmation of Israeli atomic weapons research and construction.

      There is absolutely no reason for Israel to accede to the NPT at this juncture as its non-membership has served it well.

  12. I think one of the more illuminating episodes to come out of the framework agreement has been Netanyahu’s response.

    If the best he can do by way of a deal-breaker is to demand that “recognition of Israel” be pencilled into the final JCPOA then, really, he’s lost it.

    And not in a “he tried his best and lost” way.
    More of a “is he actually insane???” kinda’ way.

    It’s going to be much harder to Boehner et al to follow in lockstep with Netanyahu if the latter goes out of his way to demonstrate to the world that he’s a loony-tune.

    Maybe Obama should get Boehner one of those T-Shirts that read “I’m With Stupid”.

  13. A brilliant scenario Juan!! I have wondered for years why the Iranians main negotiating strategy is not that they will give up their nuc program if Israel will give up theirs.

    • Agreed, Peter Tracy.
      I’m actually hoping the GOP trounces the Deal so that Iran can play the I Told You So card and re-open negotiations, this time with ALL options on the table, where ALL means exposing and dismantling Israel’s nuclear program.

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