New Treaty for Iran and Israel

Published: June 25, 2008

Middle East Times

It is often said in the Arab world that the road to Jerusalem goes through Washington, with the implicit assumption that only the Americans can bring the Israelis to the negotiating table. But there is a distinctly different dynamic emerging from the waning days of the U.S. presidency of George W. Bush. The road to Washington may in fact pass through Jerusalem.

Increasingly, countries in the Middle East are initiating peace talks with Israel directly, without U.S. assistance. The recent Syrian and Israeli negotiations are but one potentially promising model, and this route may be the best hope the Iranians have to prevent a cataclysmic confrontation over their nuclear program.

The Iranian government asserts that its nuclear enrichment program is for peaceful purposes, but suspicions still abound. The rhetoric coming out of Iran, coupled with fears over the nature of its nuclear ambitions, is terrifying the Israeli leadership, and the situation is precipitously headed toward disaster.

Certain Israelis feel rushed to take military action, believing that the current American president is more likely than future presidents to give a green light. There are also forces in Washington that would benefit greatly in the upcoming presidential elections if a war with Iran were to be unleashed in, say, October.

But most experts agree that an Israeli strike will only delay a nuclear Iran while setting in motion a horrific downward spiral in regional violence and in the global economy.

There is only one way to forestall this emerging train wreck, and that is new thinking. There is a way out of the current escalation of threats between Israel and Iran, with the introduction of a new kind of treaty designed specifically for the actors involved.

I call it the “No First Introduction Treaty.” Israel has never agreed to “no first use” of nuclear weapons because it has not admitted it has any. But it has pledged to work for a nuclear-free region, as well as the dismantling of non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction, based on a normalization of relations with all of its neighbors – which in the missile age must include Iran.

This eventuality is rather distant. But Israel has also reiterated that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East conflict. And that is a crucial opening.

It would be wise right now for the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to draft an Iranian-Israeli treaty of “No First Introduction.”

It would deftly demonstrate to the world that Iran does not stand behind the extreme and violent rhetoric of its current president.

It would diffuse global anger toward Iran, just as a seeming warming of relations between Israel and Syria has taken significant pressure off of the Assad regime.

It would undermine the neoconservative desire to attack Iran in the next six months, and the partisan American temptation to shift the elections by introducing a frightening war.

It would help Israel turn a new page in its relationship with its most dangerous adversary – a valuable strategic goal.

Such a treaty would not necessarily stop Iran from pursuing any non-peaceful nuclear ambitions in the future. But perhaps by then we will have an American or Israeli leader more likely to offer the Iranians a tempting carrot of normalization of relations and an end to regime change efforts.

These rewards would be in exchange for a mutually agreed upon nuclear inspection regime that would put an end to the fears of Iran’s neighbors in the Middle East as to its military intentions as well as stop the ongoing proxy warfare against Israel.

Iran need not change its current ideological opposition to Israel in order to pursue a path of de-escalation. It merely has to distance itself from the destructive rhetoric of its president and make a commitment not to meddle in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Having Iran engaged in any kind of constructive conversation with Israel would also undermine talk of regime change in Washington and, as a result, could enable a path toward peace between the countries.

A “No First Introduction” treaty would benefit everyone involved, both the leadership in Iran and Israel and the 50 million people across the region who would stand to be personally and horrifically impacted by a nuclear war between the two countries.

Marc Gopin is the James Laue Professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

© Marc Gopin