Victor Gilinsky and Henry D. Sokolski write: The recent agreement between the United States and Russia on Syria’s chemical weapons made clear what should have been obvious long ago: President Obama’s effort to uphold international norms against weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East will entangle the United States in a diplomatic and strategic maze that is about much more than Syria’s chemical arsenal.
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria insists that the purpose of his chemical arsenal was always to deter Israel’s nuclear weapons. If Syria actually disarms, what about Egypt and Israel? Egypt (about whose chemical weapons the United States has been strangely silent) points to Israel. And Israel of course has its own chemical weapons to deter Syria’s and Egypt’s, and it is not about to give them up. A headline in the Israeli daily Haaretz a few days ago stated: “Israel adamant it won’t ratify chemical arms treaty before hostile neighbors.”
These three countries have not adhered to the Biological Weapons Convention either. And Israel is not a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, despite having developed a formidable nuclear arsenal of its own, which will soon become the central fact in this drama, whether the United States likes it or not.
An obstacle of America’s own making has long prevented comprehensive negotiations over weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. While the world endlessly discusses Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the likelihood that it will succeed in developing an atomic arsenal, hardly anyone in the United States ever mentions Israel’s nuclear weapons.
Mr. Obama, like his predecessors, pretends that he doesn’t know anything about them. This taboo impedes discussions within Washington and internationally. It has kept America from pressing Egypt and Syria to ratify the chemical and biological weapons conventions. Doing so would have brought immediate objections about American acceptance of Israel’s nuclear weapons. [Continue reading…]