Seeing what Assad was doing, Israel expanded development of its own chemical weapons program in the 1970s. Israel was one of the first countries to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, but it remains one of only six countries that has not ratified it.
On Sept. 19, Putin told an audience in Valdai, Russia: “Syria came into possession of chemical weapons as an alternative to Israel’s nuclear weapons.”
He then linked what Syria was agreeing to do with something Israel might consider.
“The technological superiority of Israel in the region is so obvious that it doesn’t require nuclear weapons, which makes [Israel] a target and creates a special problem for it,” Putin said.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who has been central in negotiating the Syrian agreement, picked up on Putin’s idea with the Russian daily Kommersant.
“In the current situation, it is particularly important to make the . . . non-possession of weapons of mass destruction universal in this explosive region,” he said of the Middle East.
That same day, Israeli President Shimon Peres was asked at a news conference in The Hague whether Israel would follow Syria and give up its chemical weapons. “I am sure our government will consider it seriously,” Peres responded.
Will Israel take that first diplomatic step? No response from any other Israeli official.
Meanwhile, how about U.S. and Israeli officials seriously discussing other new approaches to Iran.
The P5+1, as some call the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany, are set to sit down in Geneva on Oct. 15 and 16 to hear new, concrete proposals from Iran designed to assure the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. In return, Iran would get some relief from economic sanctions.
Behind closed doors, do the P5(plus)+1 acknowledge Israel has nuclear weapons? The Iranians and other Arab countries do – in public. On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called Israel’s nuclear weapons “the source of insecurity in our region” during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
Perhaps it’s time to drop the facade hiding Israel’s nuclear weapons program from the public, since Washington and the Israeli government say more transparency is one of the goals sought when dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. It then might be easier to revive a once-planned conference on a Middle East nuclear-free zone, linking it to progress made guaranteeing that Tehran’s program remains peaceful.
No doubt, there would be risk. Israel must ask itself if it is a chance worth taking.
Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washingon Post and writes the Fine Print column.