Jack Straw Breaks an American Taboo
I’m going become a pest and a bore about linking the Iranian nuclear issue to Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Obviously the two are connected, strategically, psychologically, and morally. But we have this weird Emperor’s New Clothes thing going in America. We are supposed to be very agitated about Iran’s quest for (what seems to me) the ability to construct a nuclear weapon in a pinch, while ignoring Israel’s very large and menacing actually existing arsenal. American policy is to support an Israeli nuclear monopoly in the Mideast. But when did it become so, and how? I don’t remember any debate about it. Perhaps it was decided by the very smart people, and subsequently there was no need for further debate.
But guess what. The discussion has started. It just hasn’t reached these shores yet. Here is Jack Straw (Britain’s foreign minister under the Blair government) talking on BBC radio a few days before the Iranian election:
JACK STRAW: Well, hang on a second, Israel has a most extensive nuclear weapons capability, it has no territorial ambitions apart from stealing the land of the Palestinians and it’s not going to use nuclear weapons for that but it has (a) very extensive nuclear weapons programme, and along with India and Pakistan are the three countries in the world, plus North Korea more recently, which have refused any kind of International supervision of their nuclear programme.
JOHN HUMPHRYS: Well let me put that to Dr Gold; you can’t argue with that Dr Gold?
DORE GOLD: Well we can have a whole debate on Israel in a separate programme.
JOHN HUMPHRYS: Well it’s entirely relevant isn’t it? The fact is you’re saying they want nuclear weapons; the fact is you have nuclear weapons.
DORE GOLD: Look, Israel has made statements in the past. Israeli ambassadors to the UN like myself have said that Israel won’t be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.
JACK STRAW: You’ve got nuclear weapons.
JOHN HUMPHRYS: You’ve got them.
JACK STRAW: You’ve got them. Everyone knows that.
DORE GOLD: We have a very clear stand, but we’re not the issue.
JACK STRAW: No, no, come on, you have nuclear weapons, let’s be clear about this.
Straw is debating Dore Gold, former Israeli UN ambassador, foreign affairs advisor to Netanyahu. (As it happens, Gold is a college classmate of mine. I remember him pretty well, nice guy, from Scarsdale, used to wear brightly colored polo shirts to class. Slightly odd I must admit suddenly finding him a representative of a foreign country, but that is the modern world.) You might note that Gold, a practiced debater, has virtually nothing to say on this subject. He almost begs the moderator to make it go away—“we can debate Israel on another program.” Because one might never think that the Iranian desire to build a bomb, or develop the capacity to do so, might, just maybe, have something to do with the fact that Israel is pointing hundreds of nuclear weapons at it.
Straw is not a marginal figure, even if European politicians never speak this bluntly while they are in office. Nor is the BBC a media outlier. I think one of the most interesting things in America politics over the next few months will be to see whether the Israel lobby can impose a “No mention of Israel’s nukes” rule on the American debate about Iran. Being a somewhat optimistic sort, I don’t believe that it can.