Nuclear bomb.
Nuclear bomb. Israel News Photo: (file)

An Obama official’s call for Israel to declare its nuclear weapons could mean the end of a 40 year pact to keep the Israeli arsenal under wraps, officials in both countries say.

A senior White House official told the Washington Times Wednesday that the administration considered Iran’s nuclear program and Israel’s nuclear program to be "apples and oranges," or unrelated issues. 

Asked whether the Obama administration would press Israel to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the official – who spoke on the condition of anonymity – said, "We support universal adherence to the NPT. [It] remains a long-term goal."

Other U.S. and Israeli officials and nuclear specialists – some still serving, others not – told the Times that efforts by Washington to curb the spread of nuclear weapons could “expose and derail” a 40-year-old secret pact between the U.S. and Israel to protect the Jewish state’s nuclear arsenal from international scrutiny.

Issue will 'come to a head'

According to the paper, the issue will probably “come to a head” when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. President Barack Obama on May 18 in Washington. Netanyahu will seek assurances that Obama “will uphold the U.S. commitment and will not trade Israeli nuclear concessions for Iranian ones.”

Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said Tuesday at a U.N. meeting that Israel should sign on to the NPT.

"Universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea, ... remains a fundamental objective of the United States," Gottemoeller said. She would not say, however, whether the Obama administration intends to put pressure on Israel to join the treaty.

'Selling out' Israel?

In its editorial Wednesday, the Times warned against changing U.S policy towards Israel’s reported nuclear weapons. “Will the United States sell out its strongest ally in the Middle East to cozy up to its worst enemy?” it asked in its opening sentence.

The paper replied to Iran’s complaint that the U.S. has a “double standard” regarding Israeli and Iranian nuclear weapons.

“America treats Israel and Iran differently because they are fundamentally different,” it said. “Israel is a dependable U.S. ally and a free liberal democracy. Iran is a long-standing enemy of the United States, is directly or indirectly responsible via Iraqi insurgents and others for more deaths of U.S. service members than any country since the Vietnam War. Its people suffer under an oppressive theocracy.

"We approve of an Israeli nuclear force for the same reason we approve of a British, French or American nuclear force: We know it will serve peaceful purposes. We oppose an Iranian nuclear force for the same reason we oppose a North Korean nuclear force: We know it will not serve a peaceful purpose. Any attempt to establish parity between Israel and Iran on the nuclear issue is dangerous and naive.

“Pressing Israel to make its suspected nuclear arsenal into a bargaining chip only weakens our allies without defanging our foes,” the editorial warned.

Until now, Israel has never confirmed that it possesses nuclear weapons. If it does sign the NPT, it would have to declare and relinquish any nuclear arms at its disposal. Israel’s Muslim neighbors have threatened to destroy it and murder its citizens ever since it declared independence in 1948. For decades it has maintained deliberate ambiguity regarding the claims that it has nuclear arms, saying only that it will not be the first to introduce them to the Middle East. 

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