The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference came to a close on Friday, and the long weekend allowed for ample conversation regarding its accomplishments and imperfections. Under particular scrutiny has been a section of the final document which specifically emphasized the goal of the implementation of the 1995 resolution calling for a nuclear weapons free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East. The review conference endorsed the appointment of a facilitator to work towards this goal, and the convening of a separate conference in 2012 – to be attended by all Middle Eastern states – which would seek “the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by States in the region.”
Though it expressed full support for the goals of the resolution, the U.S. took exception to what it saw as the singling out of Israel, despite the fact that the final document recalled the reaffirmation by the 2000 RevCon of the need for Israel’s accession to the treaty and the placement of Israeli nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards.
The U.S. suggested that the goal of a MENWFZ cannot bear fruit until a comprehensive peace in the region is established and diverted attention to Iran by noting that Tehran was the only NPT signatory found by the IAEA Board of Governors to be in non-compliance with its safeguards obligations, and that it had done little to enhance international confidence in its performance. Israel, which did not participate in the RevCon, lambasted the fact that they were singled out instead of Iran, claiming that the treaty “ignores the realities of the Middle East and the real threats facing the region and the entire world.”
Israeli disappointment in the NPT RevCon’s final document—viewed as an act of bullying and infringement on their sovereignty—was reflected in two events in recent days, both of which underline exactly why the goal of a nuclear weapons free Middle East is so important.
Reports that Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles will deploy off the Iranian coast affirm the eminence of the threat posed by a nuclear Middle East, and the urgent need to make progress on the MENWFZ. Should Iran succeed in obtaining the capability to develop a nuclear weapon—which it seems bent on doing—the resulting change in power dynamics could be so extreme that Israel might feel obligated to act. Indeed Tel Aviv hasn’t shied away from threatening military attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities, underscoring its belief that the loss of its monopoly on nuclear weapons in the region in the absence of a peace accord may not be something it is willing to countenance. Israel’s anger over the language in the final document of the 2010 NPT RevCon only reaffirms this point.
What’s more, yesterday’s attack on the aid convoy bound for Gaza has contributed to further political tension in the region and condemnation of Israel by its neighbors and the international community. This incident also underscores how engaging Israel diplomatically in an effort to disarm its nuclear arsenal will prove increasingly difficult, as well as how the regional political volatility increases the danger posed by nuclear weapons in the region.
While the goal of a Mideast Nuclear Weapon Free Zone as reaffirmed in the NPT RevCon final document is laudable, it is clear that Israel is not yet a willing partner in this effort. The past few days have witnessed Israel deploy submarines armed with nuclear weapons off the coast of Iran and violate international law by attacking a humanitarian aid convoy in international waters. The time is right for the international community to be firm with Israel and demand cooperation in bringing stability to the region. Let’s cross our fingers for Israel’s participation in, and the success of, the 2012 MENWFZ conference.