Israel Ups Ante With Subs
October 14, 2003
The United States long has winked at Israel's policy of ambiguity about
its nuclear weapons. American leaders have turned a blind eye to the Israeli
program ever since President Nixon struck a deal with Prime Minister Golda
Meir in 1969 that the U.S. wouldn't insist on inspections as long as Israel
did not go public about nuclear weapons or test them openly. Now, the
disclosure by senior Bush administration and Israeli officials that Israel
has modified U.S.-supplied cruise missiles so they can carry nuclear warheads
from submarines is a dangerous step.
This is a hostile move aimed at intimidating Israel's neighbors. But it
won't deter countries such as Iran from developing their own weapons;
instead it will only encourage them to move ahead.
Israel's regional monopoly on nuclear weapons has been key to its security.
Whether it was the 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein's nuclear project in
Osirak or the more recent strike against a putative terrorist training
camp deep in Syria, Israel has been able to attack without much fear of
retaliation from its neighbors. Now it's apparently concerned that its
land-based missiles might be vulnerable to an Iranian first-strike. Israel,
in response, is creating a strategic triad — akin to what the U.S.
has — of land-, air- and sea-based nuclear missiles. Even if an
enemy wipes out your land-based missiles in a surprise attack, so the
thinking goes, sea-based missiles are likely to avoid destruction.
This may not be Israel's only aggressive step in the name of security.
The German weekly Der Spiegel, in a report that has been carried in Israeli
newspapers also, says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon two months ago
ordered a secret unit in his Mossad intelligence force to plan an air
attack on six suspected Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran, even before
the latest reports, had warned Israel not to attempt any incursion.
Israel of course has a right to defend itself, but its saber rattling
undercuts U.S. and European efforts to wean Iran of its nuclear ambitions.
Although Iran insists it is developing only power-generating plants, the
International Atomic Energy Agency has given Tehran an Oct. 31 deadline
to accept full inspections.
The U.S. tradition of ignoring or abetting Israeli nuclear arms, while
blocking Iranian moves toward them, irritates not just Tehran but also
Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The revelations about Israel's submarine
force will only stiffen Tehran's resistance to outside inspections. It
is helpful that Russia says that for technical reasons, it will delay
until 2005 the start-up of a reactor it was helping the Iranians build.
President Bush has recognized the crucial role an Israeli-Palestinian
peace could play in protecting a key U.S. ally and stabilizing the Mideast.
But the administration needs more than wishful thinking. It must twist
arms to get the parties back to peace talks, as well as let Israel know
that U.S. interests — especially in light of the Iraq occupation
— demand restraint, not a wider Mideast conflict that could plunge
Copyright 2003 Los