Israel, unlike Iran, poses no threat to its neighbours

By Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. Response to The Middle Esast has had… (THE GUARDIAN, 30/11/07):

George Monbiot claims that Israel is opposed to the notion of the Middle East becoming a nuclear-free zone and that «Israel has also exempted itself from the biological and chemical weapons conventions» (The Middle East has had a secretive nuclear power in its midst for years, November 120). As someone with a decade of direct involvement in Israeli policy-making, I can affirm that Israel remains committed to a vision of transforming the Middle East into a zone free of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons as well as ballistic missiles. Yet we are also realistic enough to know that, amid the current realities, this noble vision will not materialise any time soon.

israel cannot be expected to push for arms control and disarmament while other states and non-state actors in the region remain hostile and threaten our security. Just as in other nuclear-free zones in the world, the process of peace and good relations has to precede the final goal, and not the other way around.

The struggle against Iran’s nuclear programme is led by liberal democracies such as Britain, France, Germany and the US. It is vital that their current diplomatic efforts are sustained and intensified. Monbiot himself acknowledges the Iranian peril. As he points out: «The president is a Holocaust denier opposed to the existence of Israel.» Anyone interested in maintaining a stable Middle East should be worried by the combination of elements coming together in Tehran: a radical, terror-sponsoring regime, convinced that it is operating under divine guidance, armed with nuclear weapons and equipped with a range of delivery systems including long-range missiles that can target major European cities thousands of miles away. Military experts in the west know that not only Israel would be in danger. Indeed, from the Arab media it is evident that Iran’s nuclear programme is perceived by the moderate Arab states as a threat to the security of the entire Middle East.

Monbiot compares Israel with Iran, and depicts Israel as an «existential threat» to its neighbours. But Israel, the region’s only functioning liberal democracy, has never threatened the existence of any of its neighbours; on the contrary, it has signed peace accords with two of them, Egypt and Jordan, and is committed to a renewed peace process with the aim of establishing a Palestinian state.

Of greatest concern to me, however, is Monbiot’s disturbing allegation that Israel used chemical weapons against Palestinians in Gaza in 2001. Monbiot bases it on a BBC report, quoting unfounded Palestinian sources. In actuality there was not a shred of credible evidence to substantiate the charge.

Linking the Iran issue to Israel leads us down a blind alley. Iran did not start its nuclear programme because of Israel – indeed the nuclear reactor in Bushehr was first developed before the Islamic revolution, when Iran and Israel were allies. I have closely followed the Iranian issue for 10 years, and I believe it is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today; it is crucial that like-minded states cooperate on addressing it. Iran is in effect a ticking bomb.