Paul Pillar on Israel’s Kumquats

I just have to plug Paul Pillar’s new piece over at the National Interest entitled “Israel’s Nuclear Weapons: Widely Suspected Unmentionables.”  It’s a great piece, and I love his use of code language. Lots of great quotes, including this one:

Arms control also is at least as important to U.S. interests as to Israel’s, at both regional and global levels. Regionally, proposals for a Middle East nuclear-weapons-free zone (or in some variants, a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone) are worth discussing, however much realization of such a goal will depend on resolution of political conflicts that will determine the willingness of regional states to give up whatever weapons they currently have. Any such discussion will be a feckless charade, however, as long as neither Israel nor the United States will say anything about kumquats.

That the United States is so out of step on this subject with the rest of the world is taken by the rest of the world as one more example of double standards that the United States applies to shield Israel. Even further, it is taken as not just a double standard but living a lie. Whatever the United States says about nuclear weapons will always be taken with a grain of salt or with some measure of disdain as long as the United States says nothing about kumquats.

The issue of Iran’s nuclear program, negotiations on which will be coming to a climax this fall, is highly germane to this problem. We have the spectacle of the government of Israel being by far the most energetic rabble-rouser on the subject of a possible Iranian nuclear weapon, to the extent of repeatedly threatening to attack Iran militarily. Some might call this irony; others would call it chutzpah. Anyone would be entitled to say that any state that not only refuses to become a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) or to subject any of its nuclear activities to any kind of international inspection or control but also already possesses kumquats or their equivalents has no standing to conduct such agitation about Iran, which is a party to the NPT, has already subjected its nuclear activities to an unprecedented degree of intrusive inspection, and is in the process of negotiating an agreement to place even further limits on its nuclear program to ensure it stays peaceful.

I like this last sentence particularly, as it mirrors what I wrote about Israel’s position regarding other states’ nuclear programs in a piece here last year:

If I put myself in the shoes of Israeli officials, I totally understand why Israel wants to have nuclear weapons, doesnt want to sign the NPT, and wants to keep the whole thing “in the basement.” If I were an Israeli official, with the history of the Holocaust as my personal and national context, I would do the exact same thing. But here’s where I think Israel’s policies in the nuclear area start to get indefensible – when they criticize other countries for wanting their own nuclear weapons, or for even doing research to build up their capability to one day acquire nuclear weapons if they decide they need them.  This is just basic hypocrisy, and the absence of any principled leg to stand on. It doesn’t have anything to do with history, or with Israel’s unique perspective on the world.  And I really don’t like it when people say, well, Israel isnt under a legal obligation not to have nuclear weapons, whereas these other countries are.  Israel’s failure to sign the NPT, and the West’s willful blindness toward this fact, are not a diplomatic asset that Israel and the West can play as a card to justify the double standard.  In this regard, Israel is part of a rather ignominious club of regime outlier states – rogue states if you will – that also includes India, Pakistan and North Korea. Its not a moral high ground fact.


4 Comments on “Paul Pillar on Israel’s Kumquats”

  1. Cyrus says:

    I always enjoyed watching media talking heads tiptoe ever so gently around Israel’s known nuclear weapons and only refer it as ‘alleged’ while in the same breath they would refer to a non-existing ‘Iranian nuclear weapons program’ as if its existence was an established fact.

  2. Cyrus says:

    According to Reuters, Iran is an undeclared nuclear-armed state on par with Israel. So they got it half-right?

  3. Saroj Nair says:

    I have never been able to understand the West’s double standards with regard to Israel. One can only stretch political interests so far I would have thought. However, Israel does always seem to get off lightly, whether it is their “alleged” nuclear weapons or using WMD against civilians in Palestine. They have signed but not ratified the CWC and that is also justified because apparently Syria had them and Egypt has them, so no more needs to be said.
    I acknowledge the horrors that the people of Israel have gone though in the past and that must never be forgotten and those horrors are always condemned by everyone in the civilised world. However, open discrimination in favour of Israel all the time also seems to me to be overkill.
    It is not that I support Iran. But the constant discrimination against them definitely makes me consider things more deeply when any issue involving Iran comes up. Which is almost every day. I recently read the article on the missing uranium being such a small quantity, that it was almost negligible. However, the issue was hyped so much, one could be forgiven for wondering whether mass murder had taken place. Israel on the other hand gets off (almost) scot free even after the toll in the recent Gaza conflict was so one sided and involved a great number civilian casualties.

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