Middle East diplomacy sometimes proceeds in opposing paths. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the fourth time this week, and he shows Netanyahu more warmth than any other world leader. The reason is clear. Egypt and Israel share concerns about the rising strength of Iran and its Hezbollah and Hamas allies. But at the same time, Egypt is conducting a constant diplomatic battle to disarm the same Israeli nuclear program that supposedly deters Iran.
Egyptian pressure has led the U.S. administration and permanent Security Council members to renew the call for a "weapons of mass destruction free zone" in the Middle East. Since no state in the region intends to disarm, this statement's significance is limited. The current round will end at most with a ceremonial move, because Israel has rejected even the appointment of an international envoy to push for demilitarization.
The situation is reminiscent of 1995. The prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, talked with Mubarak a lot while the latter's foreign minister, Amr Moussa, waged a diplomatic campaign against Israel's nuclear program. Israel and the Arabs were in the middle of a peace process, Iraq was defeated and demilitarized, the Soviet Union had collapsed and the multilateral talks dealt with arms control. But since then things have changed for the worse.
Israel is convinced that the current U.S. administration will stick to all its predecessors' understandings since 1969 - that the United States won't pressure Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Egyptians say nuclear disarmament must begin, while Israel is talking about a long process beginning with comprehensive peace agreements with all the region's states and continuing with conventional, chemical and finally nuclear disarmament.
In other words, when the wolf and lamb not only live together but also raise a family. Barack Obama is backing Israel. But we can't ignore Israel's tense relations with Washington and the risk that the vision for the region will be translated into "Dimona in exchange for Natanz."
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