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Find More Articles By Sniegoski

Obama, Nuclear Arms Reduction, and the Immense Power of the Israel Lobby

Stephen Sniegoski

As the US berates Iran for its nuclear program—-though there is no substantial proof that Iran even intends to develop nuclear weapons—-the United States intentionally overlooks Israel's existing nuclear arsenal so that it will remain free from international inspection.  As an article in the "Washington Times"  by Eli Lake (October 2)  points out,  Obama has apparently pledged to Israel that the US will continue this  "head-in-the- sand" approach towards Israel's nuclear arsenal despite his  pontificating about the need for a nuclear-free world. 

As Lake's article indicates, this secret agreement between the US and Israel was initially made in 1969, and Israel successfully sought to have Obama reiterate it.  Obama has, in fact, put this agreement on much firmer ground since no formal record of such a previous agreement actually exists.  

Undoubtedly, such a secret agreement makes a mockery of Obama's idealistic talk of a nuclear-free world as well as his call for government transparency.  It is quite reminiscent of the idealistic preaching of the Allies in the World War I period about a just peace based upon national self-determination and "open treaties openly arrived at" while at the same time having secret treaties to enable the victors to carve up the spoils of war among themselves.  When revealed, this hypocrisy caused popular disillusionment with the post-war peace settlement and helped pave the way for  World War II.  

Is Obama simply a hypocrite, with his anti-nuclear arms preaching being only empty rhetoric?  The nations of the world can see the obvious double standard, making any real international agreement impossible.  However, even if Obama were totally indifferent to improving the world, which I don't think is the case, he would derive personal benefits (e.g., international acclaim)  if his nuclear arms reductions proposals achieved some type of implementation. 

Why does Obama, the head of the most powerful country in the world, allow the parochial interests of a small foreign country, Israel,  to stand in the way of his global agenda for the reduction of nuclear armaments?    As one Senate staffer told the author of the "Washington Times" article:  "the president gave commitments that politically he had no choice but to give regarding Israel's nuclear program."  Let's emphasize and then analyze those key words: "POLITICALLY HE HAD NO CHOICE." The Senate staffer (and it should be noted that Senate staff make their living by understanding political reality) presented this lack of choice as an objective fact, not a subjective fear on Obama's part.  It is not simply that Obama fears the power of Israel and the Israel lobby; rather, according to the Senate staffer, if Obama went against the interests of Israel on the nuclear issue, the Israel lobby would wreck his presidency and prevent his re-election.  This would explain why Obama did not even dare to try to get the Israeli government to make any compromise on its position of ambiguity regarding nuclear weapons, such as declaring itself a member of the nuclear club and allowing inspections. 

While the idea of a powerful Israel lobby is vociferously denied by the mainstream and is often excoriated as an example of "anti-Semitism, "  the power of the Israel lobby over the president of the United States in this case underscores  the very immensity its political influence.  Of course, the Israel lobby is so powerful that every significant mainstream figure who wishes to remain in an august position must never publicize its real power.   

This is not to say that the power of the Israel lobby is unlimited. Israel and the Israel lobby have not yet demonstrated the power to directly force the United States into a war on Iran.  And the war on Iraq required  skillful propaganda manipulation by the neoconservatives who were strategically ensconced within  the Bush administration.  Israel and its lobby's inability so far  to pressure the United States to attack Iran is largely due to resistance from the old foreign policy establishment and the military, along with the general realization of the likely catastrophic consequences of such military action.   However, Israel and its lobby have been able to get the US to pursue policies that bring the US close to war, and without that pressure the relations between the US and Iran would be far more tranquil.  (See, for example, the CFR-sponsored report "Iran: Time for a New Approach," 2004, discussed on p. 259 of "The Transparent Cabal")

Unless greater resistance to the Israel lobby is demonstrated by politicians, especially the president, it is quite likely that the United States will eventually drift into  war with Iran.  And effective resistance to the Israel lobby would require politicians to take positions that could lead to their political destruction.   Perhaps this is not possible. 

Stephen Sniegoski  

http://www.washingt news/2009/ oct/02/president -obama-has- reaffirmed- a-4-decade- old-secr/ /print/

Washington Times

Originally published 04:45 a.m., October 2, 2009, updated 07:56 a.m., October 2, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Obama agrees to keep Israel's nukes secret

Eli Lake

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.

Under the understanding, the U.S. has not pressured Israel to disclose its nuclear weapons or to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which could require Israel to give up its estimated several hundred nuclear bombs.

Israel had been nervous that Mr. Obama would not continue the 1969 understanding because of his strong support for nonproliferation and priority on preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. and five other world powers made progress during talks with Iran in Geneva on Thursday as Iran agreed in principle to transfer some potential bomb fuel out of the country and to open a recently disclosed facility to international inspection.

Mr. Netanyahu 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 U.N. 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]."

The chief nuclear understanding was reached at a summit between President Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that began on Sept. 25, 1969. Avner Cohen, author of "Israel and the Bomb" and the leading authority outside the Israeli government on the history of Israel's nuclear program, said the accord amounts to "the United States passively accepting Israel's nuclear weapons status as long as Israel does not unveil publicly its capability or test a weapon."

There is no formal record of the agreement nor have Israeli nor American governments ever publicly acknowledged it. In 2007, however, the Nixon library declassified a July 19, 1969, memo from national security adviser Henry Kissinger that comes closest to articulating U.S. policy on the issue. That memo says, "While we might ideally like to halt actual Israeli possession, what we really want at a minimum may be just to keep Israeli possession from becoming an established international fact."

Mr. Cohen has said the resulting policy was the equivalent of "don't ask, don't tell."

The Netanyahu government sought to reaffirm the understanding in part out of concern that Iran would seek Israeli disclosures of its nuclear program in negotiations with the United States and other world powers. Iran has frequently accused the U.S. of having a double standard by not objecting to Israel's arsenal.

Mr. Cohen said the reaffirmation and the fact that Mr. Netanyahu sought and received a written record of the deal suggest that "it appears not only that there was no joint understanding of what had been agreed in September 1969 but it is also apparent that even the notes of the two leaders may no longer exist. It means that Netanyahu wanted to have something in writing that implies that understanding. It also affirms the view that the United States is in fact a partner in Israel's policy of nuclear opacity."

Jonathan Peled, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, declined to comment, as did the White House National Security Council.

The secret understanding could undermine the Obama administration' s goal of a world without nuclear weapons. In particular, it could impinge on U.S. efforts to bring into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, two agreements that U.S. administrations have argued should apply to Israel in the past. They would ban nuclear tests and the production of material for weapons.

A Senate staffer familiar with the May reaffirmation, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said, "What this means is that the president gave commitments that politically he had no choice but to give regarding Israel's nuclear program. However, it calls into question virtually every part of the President's nonproliferation agenda. The president gave Israel an NPT treaty get out of jail free card."

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the step was less injurious to U.S. policy.

"I think it is par for the course that the two incoming leaders of the United States and Israel would want to clarify previous understandings between their governments on this issue," he said.

However Mr. Kimball added, "I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Netanyahu. President Obama's speech and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1887 apply to all countries irrespective of secret understandings between the U.S. and Israel. A world without nuclear weapons is consistent with Israel's stated goal of achieving a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. Obama's message is that the same nonproliferation and disarmament responsibilities should apply to all states and not just a few."

Israeli nuclear doctrine is known as "the long corridor." Under it, Israel would begin to consider nuclear disarmament only after all countries officially at war with it signed peace treaties and all neighboring countries relinquished not only nuclear programs but also chemical and biological arsenals. Israel sees nuclear weapons as an existential guarantee in a hostile environment.

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said he hoped the Obama administration did not concede too much to Israel.

"One hopes that the price for such concessions is Israeli agreement to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty and an acceptance of the long-term goal of a Middle East weapons-of-mass- destruction- free zone," he said. "Otherwise, the Obama administration paid too much, given its focus on a world free of nuclear weapons."

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