But there are several reason why Bibi, despite holding a pretty weak geostrategic hand, is able to bellow at Barry on his own front porch i.e. visit Washington as an honored guest to promote Israel's Iran-bashing agenda. Some of it has to do with Israel's PR savvy, Netanyahu's preternatural impudence, and the seemingly limitless cupidity of American politicians; but it also has to do with the feckless US surrender of the tactical initiative and moral high ground in its Iran policy to Israel in 2010.
Early in his first administration, President Obama may have had the leverage, international support, and political capital to shed the incubus of virtually unconditional support for Israel and pursue a more even-handed Iran policy. Instead, he doubled down on Israel, with the result that Israel not only claims the right to define what is safe and acceptable in US dealings with Iran; its prime minister now asserts that right before the US Congress in defiance of the US president.
The story begins with President Obama's plan to use the institutions and processes of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, reinforced by the UN Security Council and US domestic legislation, to achieve America's strategic objective vis a vis Iran: to make Iran back off from any nuclear weapons ambitions in a conclusive and verifiable fashion, thereby smoothing the way for the US-Iran rapprochement that underlies a lot of common-sense policy planning for the Middle East.
Long ago and in a galaxy far away, President Obama won his Nobel Peace Prize for nuclear non-proliferation. Not for what he had done, but for what he hoped to do. And he hoped to perfect and impose the rather unequal and onerous Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (hereinafter NPT) regime on the entire world in a sort of Pax Nukus Americana.
The double standards dilemma has been most acute for Obama, who has designed his geopolitical strategy (and collected a Nobel Peace Prize) around the idea of reducing the threat of nuclear weapons through a combination of enhanced nuclear security, vigorous non-proliferation, and great-power nuclear disarmament under US leadership - anchored by universal adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Embarrassingly, from an NPT perspective, Israel doesn't compare favorably with Iran at all.
Iran is a signatory to the NPT and an active if unhappy and not particularly candid participant in the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) safeguards program. Its current inventory of nuclear material amounts to less than 2 tons of radioactive dirt, perhaps 11 pounds of uranium enriched to just below the 20% threshold (equivalent to less than 3 pounds of HEU if fully enriched), and 0 pounds of bomb grade material.
Israel is not a signatory to the NPT. It joined the IAEA, but does not participate in any safeguards program, apparently regarding its membership primarily as a useful opportunity to pitch negative intel concerning Islamic nuclear ambitions over the Department of Safeguard's transom. It maintains an undeclared arsenal of at least 200 warheads - perhaps as many as 400.
To build this arsenal, Israel evaded export controls, allegedly diverting heavy water supplied by Norway for peaceful uses to its weapons program and illegally obtaining US krytons (high speed switches) for use in its nuclear weapons program.
And Israel has proliferated. It provided technical assistance and more to the apartheid regime of South Africa that resulted in the construction of six nuclear warheads that could be dropped by bomber on South Africa's many regional antagonists. It was alleged but never officially confirmed that the Israeli government had also agreed to supply six specially fitted ballistic missiles to carry the warheads, and that South Africa's sole nuclear test was a joint South African/Israeli affair.
In May 2009, the Obama administration had taken the significant step of naming Israel as a country that should accede to the NPT, backhandedly confirming the state’s commonly known but never officially acknowledged status as a nuclear weapons power. Per the Guardian:
Israeli officials said they were puzzled by a speech to an international conference in New York by Rose Gottemoeller, an assistant secretary of state, who said: "Universal adherence to the NPT itself - including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea - also remains a fundamental objective of the United States."
By including Israel on a list of countries known to have nuclear weapons. Gottemoeller broke with normal US diplomatic practice.
A few months later, apparently, the fix was in.
In a sign that US-Israel relations were not running smoothly despite the reaffirmation, Israel dispatched only by a minor government functionary instead of a head of state to the May 2010 Nuclear Security Summit (President Obama’s envisioned forum for groundbreaking nuclear diplomacy and the ritual display of the cherished talisman of American leadership). Back in Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak responded to President Obama's public call for Israel to join the NPT by declaring, "To our friends and our allies we say 'there is no room to pressure Israel into signing the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.'"
Lake quoted David Albright of ISIS as remarking:
"One hopes that the price for such concessions is Israeli agreement to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty and an acceptance of the long-term goal of a Middle East weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone," he said.
On May 4 at the NPT Review Conference, Egypt, speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, circulated a draft resolution calling for the commencement of negotiations including Israel to make the Middle East into a nuclear-weapons free zone.
As Haaretz reports, the Western powers appear willing to support the conference - as long as there are no negotiations and nothing happens:
Egypt can certainly look forward to a month of geopolitical armtwisting, courtesy of the United States, western Europe, and Russia to ensure that the Israel problem is eventually soft-pedaled and a pro-Western consensus prevails at the conference.
Iran will no doubt notice that Moscow is taking the lead with the United States in order to smother developing-world resentment over the Israel double standard with the illusion of consensus, as Reuters tells us:
The United States and Russia, with the support of the other three countries allowed to keep nuclear weapons under the NPT, are negotiating with Egypt to come up with an acceptable compromise proposal, Western diplomats say.
Given Egypt's reliance on US aid and the prospect of a dicy leadership transition as President Mubarak seeks to turn power over to his son, Iran may discover that Egypt's determination to extract genuine concessions on denuclearization in the Middle East might not survive the month of May.
As for that nice conference that was supposed to address the nagging Israeli nuclear weapons problem, fast forward to 2013, and a plaintive op-ed by Mahmud Karem, an Egyptian diplomat who has been involved in nuclear disarmament issues as well as serving as Egypt’s Head of Mission to the EC: