Why is the U.S. Okay with Israel Having Nuclear Weapons but Not Iran?

I guess I just missed this when it came out back in December, but this is a good piece by Max Fisher in the Washington Post about a question that nonproliferation expert Joe Cirincione says in the piece comes up in every lecture that he gives on nonproliferation and the Middle East.  Many others of us have had similar experience.  And indeed it is omnipresent whenever any discussion about the proposed WMD Free Zone in the Middle East is had.

The piece offers some nice, concise history, along with useful quotes from good people like Cirincione, and the leading authority on Israel’s nuclear weapons program, Avner Cohen.

I’ve written before here on the topic of the double standard in Western, and particularly US, policy toward Israel’s nuclear weapons stockpile, and specifically in the context of the ME WMD FZ.

But one thing I think this WP article usefully does, and this is an observation made previously by Russ Wellen, is to point out that it’s really only natural that Israel in particular would be deeply suspicious of elements of Iran’s nuclear program that could be used to make nuclear weapons clandestinely, while the government lied through its teeth to the international community about their intentions, because this is exactly what Israel itself did. As Fisher writes in the WP article:

When U.S. intelligence did finally discover Israel’s nuclear facility, in 1960, Israeli leaders insisted that it was for peaceful purposes and that they were not interested in acquiring a nuclear weapon. Quite simply, they were lying, and for years resisted and stalled U.S.-backed nuclear inspectors sent to the facility. (This may help shed some light on why the United States and Israel are both so skeptical of Iran’s own reactor, potentially capable of yielding plutonium, under construction at Arak.) The work continued at Dimona.

Again, as I’ve written before, I can understand why Israel developed a nuclear weapons program, and why it wants to maintain its stockpile now. If I were in their shoes, I’d do the same thing. So I’m not morally judging Israel.  But what gets me time and time again is how Israeli officials, and their patrons in the USG, wax moralistic in their condemnation of Iran for its nuclear weapons related experiments and capacity development, and for its refusal to cooperate with international inspectors to the extent they think it should.  That is just pure, unadulterated hypocrisy, when viewed in the light of Israel’s own nuclear history, and the acceptance and diplomatic protection of Israel’s nuclear weapons program by the US.


5 Comments on “Why is the U.S. Okay with Israel Having Nuclear Weapons but Not Iran?”

  1. Don Bacon says:

    Why the difference? Because Israel good, Iran bad.
    It’s been that way for at least fifty years, since before the concocted “nuclear crisis.”
    Iran was only good for a relatively brief period when the US-installed Shah ran the place and the US built Iran nuclear reactors..
    Otherwise, Iran is bad.

    We’re now seeing that as the general public is tiring of the concocted nuclear crisis, other fabricated issues are raised in importance, especially the Iran conventional military threat. So the US has 40,000 troops including an infantry brigade (in Kuwait) stationed at various “Arabian” Gulf locations plus the constant presence off Iran’s coast of the Fifth Fleet, HQ in Bahrain.

    The fabricated military threat also motivates the largest arms sales in the planet to Gulf countries and Israel — there’s a lot of money to be made.

    And wait, there’s more — Iran is “the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world,” the absence of Iranians on any of the many US terrorist list notwithstanding. Also there are supposed human rights abuses and faulty elections — the US dumping on Iran knows no bounds.

    Why? Because Iran has political hegemony in the Middle East and the US wants it.

  2. Cyrus says:

    The problem with such pieces is the built-in assumption that US policies with respect to Iran are actually motivated by genuine concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation — which it is not the case and never was. The entire nuclear issue was always pretextual, a justification for a policy of imposing regime-change in Iran, just as cooked-up as “WMDs in Iraq.” That’s why the US was insisting on “Zero Enrichment,” and the current talks became possible NOT because of Rouhani’s election as the media would have you think, but because the US finally seems to have dropped the “ZEro Enrichment” precondition which it had used to kill of the chances of negotiations with Iran ever actually working out. We should all remember the Brazil/Turkey deal that Iran ACCEPTED but th Obama admin killed off — Ahmadinejad was the compromising president then, not Rouhani, and he was criticized for it not by “hardliners” but by “reformists” like Mousavi.

  3. Don Bacon says:

    Remarks at the U.S.-GCC Defense Dialogue by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, May 14, 2014

    …. The United States remains firmly committed to our bilateral defense cooperation with Gulf nations. However, America’s bilateral ties and military presence are not enough. As I said at the Manama Dialogue last December, “America’s engagement with Gulf nations is intended to support and facilitate, not replace, stronger multilateral ties within the GCC.” That is because the most pressing security challenges threaten this region as a whole – and they demand a collective response.

    By strengthening the GCC, you will ensure that your collective defense is more than the sum of its parts. You will strengthen your ability to prevent and deter aggression. You will strengthen, not weaken, each of your nations’ sovereignty. And you will expand your common interests – not just in defense, but in a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous future.

    This approach is how the region must continue to address the threats posed by Iran.


  4. yousaf says:

    Sorry this question is a distraction and is often addressed by saying “Well Israel/Pak/India never signed the NPT” so all is OK.

    The more important legal question is “Why does the UNSC council not see Israel/Pak/India as a threat to peace for having made nukes secretly, while it does see Iran as such for having some CSA violations which were fixed by 2008?”

    There was a post I did on ACL about that. I have not heard a simple answer.

    Why does the UNSC have to wait around for the IAEA to tell them of CSA violations to judge threats to peace while ignoring nations that are secretly weaponizing?

    Why is the UNSC willfully blind to real nuclear threats while aggressively punishing CSA violations that have been fixed?

  5. Janaina Isabel Tewaney Mencomo says:

    I am sure there is a strong element of geopolitical strategy going on here as well as a desire of hegemonic control of the region. These reasons are probably strong enough to motivate the United States to be less suspicious about Israel’s nuclear plan than Iran’s nuclear intentions.
    I believe it is a result of America’s strategy in the Middle East. In fact in the beginning, the USA was very suspicious about Israel’s nuclear plans, and ironically, supported Iran’s peaceful nuclear project. I believe the cold war had a lot to do with the change in this policy, especially when Russia was expanding its influences in the Middle East. This made Israel an important player in the region, and an important strategic ally of the United States to keep a control on the influence and power that Iran was gaining in the region. But this phenomena is not exclusive to the USA, I believe that international public opinion is also very suspicious about Iran’s nuclear plan and less uncomfortable with the Israeli nuclear program.

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