Since May, Israel’s strategic “nuclear ambiguity”—under which it has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, has never publicly tested weapons, and yet is widely known to have nuclear bombs—has come under scrutiny in light of a 1990s U.N. resolution declaring the Mideast to be a nukes-free zone as well as the recent attempts to sway Iran from its path toward nuclear capability.
The little-noticed catch is that a March document signed by NPT signatories—including the United States—urged, in one paragraph buried amid many, that Israel become a signatory as well (which would in turn compel it to give up its weapons).
“Israel believed it had assurances from the Obama administration that it would reject efforts to include such a reference,” the New York Times’s Mark Landler wrote last weekend, “and it saw this as another sign of unreliability by its most important ally.”
In addition to singling out Israel, the document, which has captured relatively little public attention, calls for a regional conference in 2012 to lay the groundwork for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. Israel, whose nuclear arsenal is one of the world’s worst-kept secrets, would be on the hot seat at such a meeting.
At the last review conference, in 2005, the Bush administration refused to go along with any references to Israel, one of several reasons the meeting ended in acrimony, without any statement.
This time, Israel believed the Obama administration would again take up its cause. As a non-signatory to the treaty, Israel did not attend the meeting. But American officials consulted the Israelis on a text in advance, which they found acceptable, a person familiar with those discussions said. That deepened their surprise at the end.
After yesterday’s friendly meeting between the U.S. and Israeli heads of state—to say nothing of reports of a secret document committing the United States to continued nuclear cooperation with Israel—this is probably not a front-burner issue right now or in the immediate future. But don’t expect it to disappear entirely, either.