Israeli Exceptionalism

A major cause of Middle East turmoil

by , October 05, 2009

In the Washington Times, some astonishing news:

"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."

This news story is an enigma wrapped up in what may be a misunderstanding, or even pure myth. To begin with, this alleged 40-year "secret understanding" is not very well understood. As Avner Cohen puts it in Ha’aretz:

"What exactly was agreed on by Nixon and Meir is in itself ambiguous. Although both leaders dictated the minutes of what had been said and agreed on, each had his or her own version of what had been said. American documents recently declassified indicate that about a month after that conversation, even Henry Kissinger, at the time Nixon’s national security adviser, was not fully aware of the exact details of what the two agreed on."

There’s no verification of this agreement in the Nixon Library, nor is there anything in the Israeli archives. We’re just supposed to accept it on faith that the U.S. government agreed to shield the Israelis from nuclear scrutiny unto eternity, without asking for anything in return. So unlike Nixon.

In any case, whatever the nature of what seems to have been a purely verbal agreement, it appears to have been broken by the Israelis, who were presumably pledged to secrecy. Alas, that secrecy has been violated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, according to the Times, "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 UN 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].’"

What document? Please, Bibi, release it, so we can be let in on the secret. After all, it’s no secret anymore, thanks to your big mouth.

Given the reality of the Obama-Netanyahu agreement – and I, for one, believe it, if only because Bill Clinton is reputed to have renewed the pact as an addendum to the Wye negotiations, and the same crew is back in charge – one has to ask: what exactly do we get out of it? The privilege of lying for Israel’s sake, and that’s about it. And it isn’t even a remotely convincing lie: everyone knows Israel has at least 200 nuclear weapons, and no one is fooling anybody when it comes to their willingness to use them. Indeed, the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, Mohammed el-Baradei, recently opined that the main danger to peace in the Middle East isn’t Iran – which, after all, doesn’t have nukes and officially abjures the possibility – but Israel, which does have them and refuses to even acknowledge possession, never mind letting in UN inspectors.

Obama’s efforts to end nuclear proliferation – which he rightly sees as the greatest danger to our security, both foreign and domestic – is made a mockery of by this secret agreement. In public, Dear Leader talks about the prospect of a nuclear-free world, while in private he’s canoodling with the increasingly hysterical Israelis, who may just resort to nuking Tehran if they feel "existentially" threatened. This goes way beyond mere hypocrisy: it actively undermines our national security interests, as well as the president’s faltering attempts to negotiate an end to the standoff with Tehran. For if Israel is to be allowed to keep its nukes, without even having to acknowledge them, then the Iranians and the Arab states must reconcile themselves to living in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. This imbalance means a region in permanent crisis.

The idea that we can prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons without also disarming the nuclear-armed Israelis is a pipe dream: there are no prospects for anything but constant turmoil culminating in war unless and until we approach the problem in an evenhanded way. The alleged sanctity of the Nixon-Meir secret agreement is the biggest obstacle standing in our way – a roadblock of our own making.

Israeli exceptionalism – treating the Jewish state as if it were the 51st state, rather than an independent country – grossly distorts our foreign policy, endangers our security, and imperils our real interests in the Middle East. Its origins lie in the fact that foreign policy in a democratic polity is the result of interest groups lobbying to substitute their own goals and interests for the interests of the nation as a whole, and the powerful Israel lobby plays this game very well. Until and unless the Lobby is reined in – and, yes, defeated – there will be no justice and certainly no peace in the region.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Completists: you might want to get yourself a subscription to Chronicles magazine. Starting with the upcoming issue, my column, "Between the Lines," will appear in that august journal, and I will post regular contributions to the magazine’s Web site. I also have the cover story in the current issue: "Exporting Multiculturalism – At Gunpoint." I love Chronicles: back in the dark old pre-Internet days, when I was the archetypal Unknown Writer, laboring away at my biography of Murray N. Rothbard, Chronicles was my only regular outlet. I am pleased beyond measure to have the opportunity to address their remarkably literate audience on a monthly basis.

Also, The American Conservative, where I am a contributing editor, has posted my previously unavailable online review essay on the life and work of Isabel Paterson, literary critic and libertarian polemicist of the 1940s. Go check it out.

And I can’t leave out the fact that Young American Revolution, the quarterly magazine put out by Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), has published my review essay of Jennifer Burns’ Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. While we’re on the subject, YAL is really making spectacular progress, with membership – and media notice – on a definite upswing. Go check it out, and while you’re at it get yourself a copy of the latest YAR. Young people who want to get active in the anti-interventionist, pro-freedom movement often ask me what concrete actions they can take, and now I have the definitive answer: join YAL!

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