“Diamonds for Peanuts” and the Double Standard

This is a great piece by Marsha Cohen over on LobeLog. I highly recommend it. It’s very direct about a subject – Israel’s nuclear weapons stockpile – that far too few people in the nonproliferation community, especially in the US, are willing to write about directly.  But its so clearly an important set of observations, and so clearly analytically relevant to considerations of the Iran issue, for such obvious reasons. And yet the US nonproliferation community tends to bury its collective head in the sand about Israel’s nuclear weapons stockpile, for fear of upsetting the USG and their funders (when those are different things). I’ll paste the text here:


“Diamonds for Peanuts” and the Double Standard

By Marsha B. Cohen

The New York Times’ op-ed page headlined “Hopes for Iran”, which offers half a dozen cautious-to-negative views on Iran’s president-elect Hassan Rouhani, unexpectedly links to a “Related Story” published last year: Should Israel Accept a Nuclear Ban? Linking the online discussion — intentionally or not — to a debate over Israel’s own nuclear program and policies may be more remarkable than any of the op-ed’s arguments.

One of the most overlooked and under-discussed aspects of the Iranian nuclear program, at least from an Iranian point of view, is the double standard that’s applied to it: while Israel has an estimated 100-200 nuclear weapons that it has concealed for decades, Iran is treated like the nuclear threat — and Iran doesn’t possess a single nuclear weapon. Adding insult to injury, Israel is usually the first, loudest and shrillest voice condemning Iran and demanding “crippling sanctions” while deflecting attention away from its own record.

“Iran has consistently used the West’s willingness to engage as a delaying tactic, a smoke screen behind which Iran’s nuclear program has continued undeterred and, in many cases, undetected,” complained former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold (also president of the hawkish Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) in a 2009 LA Times op-ed entitled “Iran’s Nuclear Aspirations Threaten the World“:

Back in 2005, Hassan Rowhani, the former chief nuclear negotiator of Iran during the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, made a stunning confession in an internal briefing in Tehran, just as he was leaving his post. He explained that in the period during which he sat across from European negotiators discussing Iran’s uranium enrichment ambitions, Tehran quietly managed to complete the critical second stage of uranium fuel production: its uranium conversion plant in Isfahan. He boasted that the day Iran started its negotiations in 2003 “there was no such thing as the Isfahan project.” Now, he said, it was complete.

Yet half a century ago, Israel’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Shimon Peres — the political architect of Israel’s nuclear weapons program — looked President John F. Kennedy in the eye and solemnly intoned what would become Israel’s “catechism”, according to Avner Cohen: “I can tell you most clearly that we will not introduce nuclear weapons to the region, and certainly we will not be the first.” Fifty years and at least 100 nuclear weapons later, Peres is awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom, with no mention of his misrepresentation of Israel’s nuclear progress.

According to declassified documents, Yitzhak Rabin, another future Israeli prime minister (who would be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1994) also invoked the nuclear catechism to nuclear negotiator Paul Warnke in 1968, arguing that no product could be considered a deployable nuclear weapons-system unless it had been tested (Israel, of course, had not tested a nuclear weapon). Warnke was unswayed by Rabin’s talmudic logic but came away convinced that pressuring Israel would be futile since it was already a nuclear weapons state.

In a BBC Radio June 14 debate between Gold and former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw about the prospects for improving relations with Iran after Rouhani’s election, Straw pointed out that Israel has a “very extensive nuclear weapons program, and along with India and Pakistan are the three countries in the world, plus North Korea more recently, which have refused any kind of international supervision…”:

JOHN HUMPHRYS (Host): Well let me put that to Dr Gold; you can’t argue with that, Dr Gold?

DORE GOLD: Well, we can have a whole debate on Israel in a separate program.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Well, it’s entirely relevant isn’t it? The fact is you’re saying they want nuclear weapons; the fact is you have nuclear weapons.

DORE GOLD: Look, Israel has made statements in the past. Israeli ambassadors to the UN like myself have said that Israel won’t be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.

JACK STRAW: You’ve got nuclear weapons.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: You’ve got them.

JACK STRAW: You’ve got them. Everyone knows that.

DORE GOLD: We have a very clear stand, but we’re not the issue.

JACK STRAW: No, no, come on, you have nuclear weapons, let’s be clear about this.

National security expert Bruce Riedel is among those who have observed Washington’s “double standard when it comes to Israel’s bomb: the NPT applies to all but Israel. Indeed, every Israeli prime minister since David Ben-Gurion has deliberately taken an evasive posture on the issue because they do not want to admit what everyone knows.” Three years ago, Riedel suggested that the era of Israeli ambiguity about its nuclear program “may be coming to an end, raising fundamental questions about Israel’s strategic situation in the region.” Thus far that hasn’t happened. Instead, Israeli leaders and the pro-Israel lobby use every opportunity (including Peres’ Medal of Freedom acceptance speech) to deflect attention from Israel’s defiant prevarication about its own nuclear status and directing it toward Iran.

This past April, Anthony Cordesman authored a paper for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) arguing that Israel posed more of an existential threat to Iran than the other way around. “It seems likely that Israel can already deliver an ‘existential’ nuclear strike on Iran, and will have far more capability to damage Iran than Iran is likely to have against Israel for the next decade,” Cordesman wrote. (The paper has since been removed from the CSIS website, but references to it persist in numerous articles.)

This double standard, and refusal to recognize Iranian security concerns, is not news to Iranians. Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Iranian Majlis (Parliament), assured the Financial Times last September that talks between the U.S. and Iran “can be successful and help create more security in the region. But if they try to dissuade Iran from its rights to have peaceful nuclear technology, then they will not go anywhere — before or after the US elections.” Larijani, who was Iran’s nuclear negotiator between 2005-2007, proposed that declarations by U.S. political leaders that Iran has a right to “peaceful nuclear technology” be committed to in writing.

“Many times the US president or secretary of state have said they recognise Iran’s right to nuclear energy,” Larjani said. “So, if [they] accept this, write it down and then we use it as a basis to push forward the talks…What they say during the talks is different from what they say outside the talks. This is a problem.” Larijani also denied that Iranian leaders were discussing withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) even though the benefits of Iran remaining a signatory — in the face of mounting international pressure campaigned for by Israel while Israel itself faced little to no criticism — seemed unclear. “The Israelis did not join the NPT and they do not recognize the IAEA,” he said. “They are doing what they want — producing nuclear bombs, and no one questions it.”

This past weekend, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour bluntly suggested that up until now, the U.S. has offered Iran few incentives to comply with the international community’s demands regarding Iran’s nuclear program: “Let’s just call a spade a spade. I’ve spoken to Iranian officials, former negotiators, actually people who worked for Dr. Rouhani earlier, and they said that so far the American incentives to Iran in these nuclear negotiations amounts to demanding diamonds for peanuts.”

Ben Caspit, writing in al-Monitor last week week, notes that as soon as the Russians hinted Iran would be willing to suspend uranium enrichment and keep it at the 20% level, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blew off the suggestion as merely cosmetic. The Israeli demand will continue to be  uncompromising, Caspit says, insistent that “…nothing short of complete cessation of uranium enrichment, removal of all enriched uranium out of Iran; termination of nuclear facility activities and welcoming the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would provide sufficient guarantee of Iran’s willingness to abandon the nuclear program. Needless to say this will never happen.”

As Jim Lobe pointed out the other day, Rouhani outlined an 8-point blueprint for resolving the nuclear standoff between the U.S. and Iran in a letter to TIME in 2006. Rouhani stated:

In my personal judgment, a negotiated solution can be found in the context of the following steps, if and when creatively intertwined and negotiated in good faith by concerned officials…Iran is prepared to work with the IAEA and all states concerned about promoting confidence in its fuel cycle program. But Iran cannot be expected to give in to United States’ bullying and non-proliferation double standards.


20 Comments on ““Diamonds for Peanuts” and the Double Standard”

  1. What a great piece which evidences the serious challenges the international legal order is currently facing. However, I wonder whether eradicating or reducing the availablity of such weapons might require the use (and abuse) of all options and avenues including double-standards?

    • Cyrus says:

      The point was that the abuse of the legal process is being directed to a non-nucler armed state rather than the actual nuclear-armed one.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    Arabs in the Middle East, polls show, are fearful of the Israel nuclear threat and not fearful of Iran, which doesn’t have nukes. They want a nuclear-free Middle East, and pending that they want Israel under the NPT. According to a recent Brookings poll, given present conditions, a majority of the Arab public now see a nuclear-armed Iran as being better for the Middle East.

    The Arab League also has lobbied against Israel nukes. Text of letter received by the UN-IAEA Director on 13 June 2012 from the Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan On behalf of the Arab States that are members of the International Atomic Energy Agency: I have the honour to forward to you the request, based on the decisions of the Council of the Arab League at the level of the Summit and Arab Foreign Ministers, for the inclusion of an item on “Israeli nuclear capabilities” in the agenda of the fifty-sixth session (2012) of the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

    An item on “Israeli nuclear capabilities and threat” has been on the agenda of the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency since 1987 and the Conference has adopted resolutions calling upon Israel to place its nuclear installations under Agency safeguards.

  3. Nick says:

    Does anybody have a copy of Cordesman paper, which is now removed from the CSIS site?

    On another topic, Dennis Ross in an opinion piece for NYT today is rushing Obama to make one final attempt to test the situation with the new administration of Iran (Rohani) and if that doesn’t work, drop the bombs. He has been saying this over and over again, since he left the Obama administration.

    This so called Iran nuclear expert is talking about the vague term of offering a deal that prevents a “break out capability.” The only way that would work is to ship all the ten tons of LEU (including 20% stuff) and limit the enrichment to 164 P1s or less. This is a pipe dream that I hope it is not shared by the Obama administration.

    • yousaf says:

      Did you try google cache?

      You can also try:


    • Johnboy says:

      Nick: “This so called Iran nuclear expert is talking about the vague term of offering a deal that prevents a ‘break out capability.’ ”

      No, actually, Ross’ article is far more incoherent than that.

      Mull this sentence: “Those developments have shrunk the time we have available to ensure that the Iranians cannot break out and present the world with the fait accompli of a nuclear weapons capability”

      I think everyone here can agree that:
      “nuclear weapons capability” = “you already possess the means to make a nuke”
      in which case the catch-phrase:
      “break out” = “you have actually commenced building that damn nuke”.

      But that definitely isn’t what Ross said, otherwise his sentence would have concluded with “the fait accompli of nuclear weapons”.

      So Ross **appears** to be arguing (again, he’s pretty incoherent) that Iran must not be allowed to get to a stage where it is “capable” of “breaking out” to a “break-out-capability”.

      Errrr, right, shall we call that the Dennis-Doctrine?
      Or how about the “pre-break-out break-out-capability(tm)”?

      • Don Bacon says:

        And “breakout” is a long process that requires testing which would be obvious to all.

        Clinton Bastin, nuclear scientist: “Iran has no experience with this process, and no facilities to carry it out. Assembly of metal components with high explosives is even more dangerous, because a nuclear explosion would kill those within half a mile. Because of the difficulties, Iran would need 10 to 15 years to make a weapon, after diversion of low-enriched uranium, which would be immediately detected by IAEA inspectors.”


      • Cyrus says:

        The deliberate obfuscation and mixing up of nucler weapons with a mere nuclear weapons “capability” is pretty normal in the Iran coverage.

      • Nick says:

        His “breakout doctorine,” although does not include: testing, prototyping and shaping the almost pure uranium metal semispheric parts for a bomb, that could take additional weeks or months, but it is much easier to explain to the public. And that is why he and other like minded people continue with this narrative on the 90% fissile material breakout period.

        What they hope for is nothing more than a “Mickey Mouse” enrichment plan at the end, as pointed out in this article:


        If the end goal for removing sanctions is to accomplish that objective, I doubt IRI rightfully is going to fall for it.

  4. yousaf says:

    Re. Dennis Ross’ NYTimes piece — it is important to read the previous post on ACL by Pierre Emmanuel Dupont regarding the legal case against Iran because what Ross argues for is arbitrary standards of comfort (“concerns”) as opposed to legal standards be applied to Iran’s nuclear program. What such arbitrary concerns boil down to is “do you trust Iran”? And what that boils down to is regime change: Ross won’t be comfortable with anything of a nuclear nature in Iran under the current IRI regime. Ross and the rest of the USG should just admit this instead of perpetuating the charade.

    • Johnboy says:

      There is not much to like in that article, but Dennis Ross gives the entire game away in this extraordinary sentence:
      “Those developments have shrunk the time we have available to ensure that the Iranians cannot break out and present the world with the fait accompli of a nuclear weapons capability”

      Errrr, Dennis, baby, you don’t “break out” to a “nuclear weapons capability”.

      Mull the distinction between
      a) “nuclear weapons capability”
      b) “nuclear weapons manufacture”

      The difference: in the former case you AREN’T attempting a “break out”, you are merely keeping your options open regarding doing so in the future, whereas in the latter case you ARE “breaking out”.

      Or, put another way: the moment you attempt the “break out” is the moment that you are discarding your “nuclear weapons capability” (which isn’t actually prohibited by the NPT) in favour of “the manufacture of nukes” (which is prohibited by the NPT).

      That Ross conflates the two – that Iran might “break out” to somewhere that they must already be before they can Take The Plunge – is mind-boggling in its implication.

      Because that conflation means that Ross is either an ill-informed idiot or a dishonest shill.

      Take. Your. Pick.

      • yousaf says:


        Poor editing should be “wiped off the map”.

      • Nick says:

        Well he is the man Obama picked for the job during the first term, a gross mistake that was meant to appease Florida voters. He clearly bamboozled any opportunity to make a deal with Iran, and now from the outside continues to interject impractical ideas.

  5. Denis says:

    Could one of you IAEA experts help me out with this:

    Dr. Cohen said: Larijani also denied that Iranian leaders were discussing withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) even though the benefits of Iran remaining a signatory — in the face of mounting international pressure campaigned for by Israel while Israel itself faced little to no criticism — seemed unclear.

    My understanding — and I’m not sure where it came from — is that IAEA has people in Iran 24/7/365. If that is true, then surely before GoI/USG launch a preemptive attack on Iran, the IAEA will be given a warning to get their people out of harm’s way. Even if they were not in the path of the GBUs, IRI would not permit them to leave once an attack starts. Probably ever.

    So IAEA people suddenly lining up for taxis to the airport will be the signal to IRI to put their jets in the sky.

    If this is true, then as to Dr. Cohen’s questioning the benefits to IRI of remaining in the NPT, it seems to me that the canary in the mine is worth the cost of the bird-seed.

    But I think it was Bob Kelley commenting here or on ACW who related how the IAEA folks were on the ground in Baghdad to see Bush’s shock and awe when it came to town. So I don’t know about this hypothesis — maybe the military objectives and the benefits of surprise are more important than a few IAEA lives.

    Does IRI being in the NPT provide them with an early-warning system or immunity from attack?

    • Cyrus says:

      Iran’s facilities are subject to remote surveillance, by camera, and the inspectors only occasionally are physically present at the sites

      • Denis says:

        Thanks, Cyrus

        It’s back to the drawing board on that canary theory.

      • Denis says:

        Uh, Cyrus ….

        [Slowly] rethinking your comment, the point is not whether IAEA people are “at the sites” but whether any are physically in IRI.

        If there are IAEA folks in the country, then surely USG/GOI would have to give IAEA notice before attacking, and the exit of said IAEA folks is all IRI would need to see that a spanking is on the way in the form of, say, B-2’s and that new super-duper bunker buster.

        This provides a speculative answer to Dr. Cohen’s pondering why IRI even stays in the NPT. Of course, if there are no IAEA staff in IRI then WTF is IRI doing in NPT, IYGWIM.

    • Don Bacon says:

      Probably the Iraq invasion, preceded by a warning to IAEA inspectors to skedaddle, is a precedent.

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