• 13 May 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • Israel, Nuclear file, UN

The Radioactive Elephant in the Room (UPDATED)

With the NPT review conference in New York and the international community increasingly focusing on Iran’s nuclear program, a variety of media sources have picked up on what other countries in the Middle East have been saying for decades.

“Israel’s nuclear arsenal stands like the radioactive elephant in the room,” blogger and journalist Khaled Diab told the BBC.

Israel today is widely believed to have between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads, but it has never declared them, signed on to the NPT, or opened its nuclear facilities to inspection. In turn, the United States has for the past 40 years looked the other way, pursuing a public policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity has been a major point of contention for many nations throughout the Middle East, including Iran. With the US and the international community directing their attention to the potential nuclear proliferation risk posed by Iran, Arab and Islamic states have increasingly raised their voices on the potential threat of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

In connection with President Obama’s ambitious nuclear nonproliferation agenda, there has been renewed interest in the 1995 proposal of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Egypt has recently circulated a proposal to the NPT’s 189 signatories calling for a conference by 2011 with the participation of all Middle Eastern countries on ridding the entire region of nuclear weapons.

Israel’s nuclear arsenal is of course a sticky aspect that would have to be resolved in order to achieve this vision. For the first time, though, Israel’s nuclear arsenal is set to undergo review by the IAEA after having been voted onto its provisional agenda for the June 7 board meeting with the support of many Arab and Islamic states.

The response made by Israel as well as the US is that realistically there must first be peace with Israel’s neighbors and in the Middle East. At a time when Iran calls for the destruction of Israel, it makes sense that Israel views a peace agreement as a precondition for any discussions on its nuclear arsenal.

Last Wednesday, U.S. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher told an audience of delegates and reporters that it was hard to imagine negotiating “any kind of free zone in the absence of a comprehensive peace plan that is running on a parallel track.”

Of course the question of whether peace in the Middle East is actually possible is an entirely different debate. What is interesting to note, however, is the interdependence between Iran and Israel on the possibility of disarmament in the region.

While it is obvious that Israel will not disarm with the threat of a nuclear Iran and calls for its destruction, the other side of the equation should not be wholly ignored.

Progress toward a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East would directly coincide with progress toward ensuring Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon itself.  In this respect, Israel has a huge role to play — and can actually be its own best friend in stemming the possibility of an Iranian bomb.

This of course is not to discount the very valid point that Israel has. Israel has no obligations to get rid of its nuclear program as it is not a member of the NPT and with calls for its destruction by its neighbors, among them Iran, a nuclear weapons program is likely seen as vital to its national security. Nonetheless, the international community, and Israel among them, should not overlook the role that the sole nuclear arsenal in the region plays in Iran’s calculations. One of Iran’s biggest motivations for possibly developing nuclear weapons is a military threat from Israel. Israel happens to have nuclear weapons. It’s as simple as that.

Update: For evidence of this theory being put in practice (albeit with Russia, rather than Israel), check out what Rose Gottemoeller said about the positive externalities of the new START Treaty on pressuring Iran.

While there is no “direct” link between the [arms reduction] treaty and the sanctions debate on Iran, Gottemoeller said that the boost in the US-Russian relationship helps other efforts in which the two countries are involved…

“Therefore there will be beneficial influence on issues of mutual concern. Certainly Iran is one of them.”

Thanks to our friends at Nukes of Hazard for catching this.

Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie

    One Response to “The Radioactive Elephant in the Room (UPDATED)”

  1. Pirouz says:

    “While it is obvious that Israel will not disarm with the threat of a nuclear Iran and calls for its destruction…”

    President Ahmadinejad’s actual quote: “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time” (بايد از صفحه روزگار محو شود).

    There is no call for the physical destruction of occupied Palestine. I challenge you, Setareh, to come up with a credible instance where an Iranian leader of true significance has called for a military first strike against Israel. By the same token, how many times have we heard over and over again the threats by Israel’s leaders of bombing the Islamic Republic of Iran? Pretty much weekly- wouldn’t you say?

    Your “update” is perplexing. Is it your position that it is somehow a good thing to sanction Iran into forgoing its rights under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? If so, your opinion runs counter to that of overwhelming public opinion inside Iran. That position could very well be considered anti-Iran.

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7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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