A World Closing Itself Off

"The world is closing itself off from us," complains one senior security official, while a colleague from Israel's intelligence services adds, "More than ever before, we are operating in a hostile world."

"The world is closing itself off from us," complains one senior security official, while a colleague from Israel's intelligence services adds, "More than ever before, we are operating in a hostile world." Maneuvering room allotted to Israel's arms purchasing and intelligence systems is becoming more narrow due to the West's awareness of the need to thwart terror and stifle weapons proliferation. These new norms, whose enforcement Israel has promoted, are making it hard for the country's security organizations to operate.

This problem has become particularly acute in European countries, which are far less accommodating. "What can you do; the Holocaust happened during the last century," a top intelligence official from one of the European states said in a conversation with an Israeli peer. Seemingly routine acts, such as paying the bill at a hotel, or purchasing a plane ticket, raise suspicions in a world unnerved by September 11. The interrogative procedures at airports and other public venues require intelligence services worldwide to regroup, come up with more persuasive cover stories and invest more heavily in back-up systems.

When the CIA met with opposition put up by European states regarding activity on their soil, U.S. President George W. Bush ordered agency chief George Tenet to "screw them." The United States can afford to deploy such an aggressive stance toward its European allies. Israel, which is not a superpower, must find a way to get by.

The Defense Ministry has also run into problems in Europe, where attitudes toward Israel have toughened up since the outset of the intifada. Governments such as Britain, Germany and Switzerland put obstacles in the path of Israel's security network in order to avoid hostile charges and questions in parliaments and in the media about their support for Israel's "army of conquest." The British persist with their unaccommodating attitude, despite Prime Minister Tony Blair's promises to remove obstacles.

A still more difficult problem is posed by developed countries which have adopted a policy of blocking the flow of sensitive technology to problematic countries. These countries operate like a closed, exclusive members club. Israel has a national interest in the success of international supervision of arms technology exports; such monitoring makes it difficult for states like Iran and Iraq to develop nuclear arms and missiles. The relative ease with which the Iraqis acquired components for their secret arms projects, up until the disclosure of such projects during the Gulf War, exposed a dangerous breach in arms export supervision. Various countries are now trying to narrow the gap in arms export monitoring.

Israel has a problem. It cannot be included as a member of this monitoring states club due to its opposition to foreign supervision and its refusal to ratify the non-proliferation treaty against the spread of nuclear arms. Members of this club are free to sell sensitive technologies to one another, and to relay information to one another about deals and problematic arms acquisition requests. Israel remains outside this loop.

Israel's latest concern involves a new American law for restrictions on the export of dual purpose technologies (civilian products that can be adapted to military use). This bill has been stalled for years in Congress; its legislation would impede the sale of important technologies to states that do not belong to the monitoring club. Should it pass, it will make life difficult for Israeli military and civilian industries.

Israel has been trying to win special status in the United States as a country that complies with supervision standards voluntarily. A system for missile supervision has already been anchored in Israeli law. Orders imposing supervision standards on chemical, biological and nuclear materials are being formulated; their enactment is being delayed by squabbling among government ministries.

Israel doesn't mind adopting restrictions and supervision norms: it doesn't export sensitive materials, and the problematic countries (such as Iran and Iraq) are hardly buyers of whatever it does export. But legislation will not meet all of Israel's needs; in the future it will need to continue to display creativity in arms purchasing and intelligence work.