Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Getting to a WMD-Free Middle East

Clicking on this title, "Toward a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East," brings you to the article I adapted from my presentation at a U.N. panel in New York, Oct. 4 -- alongside Egyptian, Iranian and American participants -- and published at Open Zion/The Daily Beast.  The following is an abridged version:

. . .  Today, thanks to the persistence of Secretary of State John Kerry, we have Israeli-Palestinian negotiations scheduled to last nine months.  . . . Instead of an American attack on Syria, we have a Russian-American agreement, backed by a U.N. Security Council Resolution, to remove chemical weapons from Syria. And we have an Iranian president and an American president talking to each other on the phone for the first time since 1979—a first step toward serious negotiations about the Iranian nuclear program.
. . .  The new situation creates both challenges and opportunities for those of us who want to promote the idea of a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)-Free Zone in the Middle East and a regime of security and cooperation in the region. 
With diplomacy on the march, the Israeli government cannot be seen as rejectionist . . . Even Finance Minister Yair Lapid, of the centrist Yesh Atid (There Is A Future) Party, criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu for ordering the Israeli delegation to walk out on President Rouhani's speech at the U.N. The Israeli government will come to feel that it must also make positive contributions to the current climate. President Peres has already suggested that Israel will seriously consider ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention.
. . .  For any progress to be made, it is absolutely essential that Israel sit down at the negotiating table. Two things that won't help are the following:
a) To ask Israel to sign the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] at the beginning of the process;
b) To suggest that Israel should unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons program as a confidence-building measure towards the creation of a WMD-free zone and comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace.
There are some very good ideas in the draft paper on “Fissile Material Controls in the Middle East: Steps toward a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and all other Weapons of Mass Destruction,” prepared by Prof. Frank von Hippel, Iranian Ambassador Mousavian and their colleagues at Princeton. From an Israeli perspective, perhaps the most important phrase in the paper is the following:
Any effort to make progress towards a Middle East WMD-free zone must reckon with Israel’s long standing security concerns about its neighbors, the history of covert proliferation efforts in the Middle East and the ongoing dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
. .  . At the Palestine-Israel Journal we prepared a special issue devoted to 'A Middle East Without Weapons of Mass Destruction' that contains valuable contributions from many of the people involved in these initiatives. It includes the transcript of an unprecedented discussion held in the Knesset's Science and Technology Committee room, featuring a presentation by IPPNW (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) Co-President Dr. Ira Helfand on “The Danger of Nuclear Weapons Today and the Implications of a Limited Nuclear War." . . .
The main thing is to get Israel to the table. This has to be done with sensitivity and creativity.
One of the potential building blocks for this is the Arab Peace Initiative, launched in 2002 and reconfirmed once again in 2013. What we need is a parallel process, moving toward a WMD-Free Zone and toward comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace and a new regional regime of peace, security and cooperation.  . . . 

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