07/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Israel's Nukes: A Response

In reaction to my report that national leaders can act irrationally, and hence it is best if they cannot put their hands on weapons of mass destruction, I received a handful of messages. They held that as long as Israel had nuclear weapons there was no cause to complain about those which Iran may be acquiring. Not one of these commentators noted the fact that Israel has repeatedly declared itself willing to give up its nukes if other nations in the area would agree to form a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, as part of a comprehensive peace deal.

Before I proceed, I should note that I do not view criticizing Israeli policies as inappropriate, and surely not as anti-Semitic. Indeed, most Israelis criticize their nation's policies in no uncertain terms -- and they are Semites. Second, I consider Israel's commitment not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East as sheer PR. What it means is that Israel has all the elements in place, and they can be assembled into a weapon on very short notice if it is attacked. However, Israel's offer to give up all nukes should not be ignored.

Take, for example, the comment of someone who does not disclose his or her identity and goes by the alias "jhNY": "Unless and until Israel's nuclear weapons are included in this anti-proliferation discussion, I'm going to believe that the discussions themselves are dishonest, in that certain facts (like the 150+ weapons Israel presently possesses) have been deliberately placed outside the bounds of discourse. Enough already." I assume that now that he or she has learned that Israel aspires to a zone free of WMDs and Iran does not, he/she will change his/her tune.

The same holds for the comment by someone whose alias is a least a bit revealing, namely "V4Vigilance" who writes "If I were Iran, I'd tell the U.S. and it's allies that it will agree to any nuclear inspection regime that Israel agrees to also abide by. Presumably this farce is being perpetrated in the name of Israeli security. That's fine, except that giving Israel a free pass to have a clandestine nuclear weapons program is a crock of sh*t. What's good for the goose, is good for the gander." Fair enough. How about the other way around? As Israel has agreed to much more than inspections, giving up these horrible weapons, can one now ask the same of Iran?

One more case in point: the comment by one Henry states "It is high time that we got a little bit ashamed of ourselves. I think that goes for our cousins (or is that subsidiary?) Israel. If Israel has nooks, why not Iran?" Fair enough. Let's "hook" all the nations in the Middle East -- and then the world -- into giving up their WMDs.

Finally, I agree that Iran has good reasons to fear that it will be attacked by the United States. Hence, I have repeatedly argued that the United States should agree to Iran's suggestions to form a non-aggression treaty, if this treaty entails putting all the other relevant issues on the table-- above all forming a zone free of WMDs. [For more on this, visit here and here].

All this does not change the fact that none of us can sleep safely as long as nukes are in the hands of irrational leaders, and I would add even the hands of those who seem rational. I agree: what is good for goose should be good for the gander, as well as all the other birds.

Amitai Etzioni is a professor of international affairs at The George Washington University and the author of Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy. To contact him, write