At the end of last month, Israel secured a diplomatic victory that was swallowed up in the tumult of domestic events. The General Conference of countries that are members of the International Atomic Energy Commission, which met in Vienna, rejected a draft resolution by the Arab states to discuss "Israel's nuclear capabilities." This is the second year that the Arab countries have failed to pass such a resolution.
Ostensibly, this is an impressive diplomatic achievement, indicating that the international community has rejected the Arab position that Israel is a nuclear power. But it would be a serious mistake to believe that this spells the end of pressure on Israel to become a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel is one of only four countries that has not done so, and it will encounter quite heavy pressure in the framework of the commission's activities in the year ahead.
Next month, the IAEA is to host a forum to study the relevance for the Middle East of establishing a nuclear-free zone. Israel has expressed its willingness to take part in the forum, although its representative to the commission, the chairman of Israel's Nuclear Energy Commission, Shaul Horev, said: "International experience has shown that the establishment of a nuclear-free zone can stem only from the region itself, through direct negotiation among its countries... No majority vote of an international forum can be a substitute for regional consensus and cooperation."
Israel will face a much more serious dilemma in the 2012 conference called for in a resolution of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Review Conference from last year. When the Review Conference completed its work, Israel announced it would not take part in the implementation of its decisions. However, considering that one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the idea is U.S. President Barack Obama, who as far back as 2009 shared his vision of a nuclear-free world, the United States can expect Israel to take part in the conference.
The diplomatic victory at the General Conference in September must not blind our policy-makers. Israel's nuclear potential will not disappear from the international agenda. The position of Egypt, which through the years has led the moves to expose Israel's nuclear capability, is likely only to become more extreme. If there is one issue that all Egyptian parties can unite behind in the election campaign scheduled for the end of the year, it is Israeli nuclear capability. More and more voices are calling for a link between pressure on Iran about its nuclear program and Israel's nuclear program.
Policy makers must use the coming months to consider an essential change in Israel's nuclear policy. Instead of waiting for pressure to mount, Israel should initiate dialogue with the Obama administration to quickly reach a new "nuclear agreement" with the United States before other international bodies make decisions on the matter.
It would be a secret agreement - at least at first - that would constitute the basis for a gradual change in Israel's nuclear status in the eyes of the international community, and that the United States would utilize to prepare for this new status. The time has come to put an end to what is perceived as the panic of ambiguity.
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