Thursday, June 03, 2010

China Matters Iran/NPT Scorecard...

...and what that might have to do with Israel attacking a Turkish cruise ship in international waters

I premised my writing on the whole Iran/nuclear/sanctions/NPT imbroglio with the ideas that:

A. The Obama administration wants to restructure its global security doctrine around joint action to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament through a revitalized NPT;
B. To bring Israel (and India and Pakistan) in the tent, it was necessary to show that multi-lateral do-goodery could squelch Iran's nuclear program;
C. Therefore, the UNSC Iran sanctions drive and NPT Review Conference were linked.
D. If things worked out like the Obama administration hoped and intended, the UNSC sanctions would be on track and Israel would heed President Obama's repeated calls for it to join the NPT.

Well, D obviously didn't happen.

And, clearly, the Obama administration explicitly decoupled the UN sanctions drive from NPT Revcon.

So much for C.

Though I have my suspicions that twisting China and Russia's arms to sign on to Iran sanctions without movement by Israel was America's Plan B after Israel openly and repeatedly spurned the NPT.

Or maybe it was the other way around, and slow progress on sanctions cheesed an U.S./Israel understanding on NPT Revcon.

Anyway, didn't happen.

No B, though it looks like the UN Security Council will grunt out Iran sanctions in the next few weeks.

No A, either. None of the hot nuclear lions+lambs dogpile action we had been led to expect for NPT Revcon 2010.

Everything just got kicked down the road to Revcon 2015.

I hope they are grading on the curve in Pundit Heaven.

But seriously, I think that was the plan, or something like it.

But the inability of Israel and the United States to get on the same page kept it from panning out.

Instead, the NPT Revcon went off in the opposite direction, going after Israel.

Israel's refusal to toss President Obama a bone on participating in the NPT regime made it impossible for the U.S. to forestall a resolution championed by Egypt to negotiate a nuclear-weapons-free zone--negotiations that would require Israel's participation.

The full text of the consensus final document isn't up (I guess the Revcon Underwood is in the repair shop), but the FAS provided this report on the negotiations over the Middle East "Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone" (a.k.a. "WMDFZ", an acronym that inevitably evokes in my mind the cozy image of "Warmed Fuzz").

It makes a strong case for the central importance of resolving the Israel conundrum not just for meaningful WMDFZ talks, but also to prevent the total disintegration of the NPT.

Finally in 2010 there was a small breakthrough; in the action plan of the Final Document a plan was endorsed to address implementing the Resolution. This plan includes the convening of a Conference in 2012 by the United Nations Secretary-General and the co-sponsors of the Resolution (Russia, U.S. and U.K.) to be attended by all States of the Middle East on the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction free zone (WMDFZ) in the region. In addition, the convening parties will appoint a Facilitator to support implementation of the 1995 Resolution by conducting consultations with the States of the region and preparing for the convening of the Conference. The Facilitator will also assist in implementing follow-on steps agreed by the participating regional States and report to the 2015 Review Conference and its Preparatory Committee meetings. These measures were the minimum Egypt and the other Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and Arab States required in order to not block consensus at the RevCon. While the U.S. and Egypt worked hard to get compromise language on this issue, the U.S. now must assert great pressure on Israel to attend the upcoming Conference, participation in which the Israeli government has already rejected. Failure to convene this Conference with Israel in attendance could be the final straw that breaks the NPT in 2015.

In bad news for the rickety NPT camel, at present the prospects for Israel showing up--or the U.S. even exerting "great pressure" on Israel to appear--look pretty grim.

The estimable Laura Rozen reported on the Obama administration's backgrounder bullet point for the WMDFZ:

-- The U.S. agreed to a modest step of supporting the convening of a discussion conference in 2012 to discuss the modalities involved in establishing a future WMD-free zone in the Middle East. The Arab League wanted this conference to have a negotiating mandate and the creation of a Standing Committee to monitor progress towards such a zone. They did not get those elements. It will be up to every state in the region if they decide to attend this conference. The United States will not pressure any government to attend -- ultimately, this is a decision for the states in the region itself. [emph. added]

The Obama's Iran-related bullet point is a classic of wishful thinking and up-is-down-spinmeistering that deserves the widest possible circulation.

I will oblige (again via Ms. Rozen):

- After delaying the concluding plenary session for four hours today while awaiting orders from Tehran, the Iranian delegation decided to not break consensus and acceded to the final document. The U.S., working with others, successfuly isolated the Iranians. Tehran had no choice but to fold at the end.

Yes. Iran was forced to vote for a a consensus document that, as far as I can tell, doesn't mention Iran but includes a resolution Israel abhors.


The truly interesting question to yours truly--that I think is worth chewing on--is: Why is Israel dead set against participating in the multi-decade handjob known as the NPT process?

It is hard to see the security and diplomatic costs that Israel would incur by participating in the NPT regime on a conditional basis (a big, fat special-friend waiver on inspection of weapons facilities like India got) and giving the United States full justification to pile on Iran.

My theory is that Israel is totally committed to an escalated-tension security regime of U.S.+Israel against everybody else.

If Israel signed on to the NPT, the United States would be be vested in the success of the NPT regime as a negotiating environment for managing Iran's nuclear ambitions, at the expense of sanctions--and Israel.

If talks actually bear fruit ,the U.S. might give lesser weight to a security-based, U.S.-directed sanctions program to incapacitate Iran, and, in classic Walt-Mearsheimer fashion, drift away from an exclusive identification with Israeli priorities in the region.

Better to refuse to participate in the NPT thing, maintain the focus on containing Iran, and keep the United States preoccupied with its obligations as Israel's only friend.

Speaking of only friends, the conventional narrative is that the Gaza relief flotilla fiasco--which has, at least for the time being, put paid to the role of Turkey as Israel's "only friend" in the Middle East--was just another example of meatheadedness by the willfully insular and confrontational Netanyahu government.

Certainly, it's going to make the UN Iran sanctions voting a little more complicated (Turkey is a non-permanent member of the Security Council this year and gets a vote, if not a veto), something we assume that the Israeli government will find frustrating.

All well and good, but for me the interesting point was that the flotilla was attacked in international waters.

One would think that Israel would have seized the vessel within Israeli waters, where the threat of Islamic toys and clothing would have appeared more imminent and Israel's actions would have fallen well within the realm of international maritime law.

However, instead of a security action against an intruder in its territorial waters, Israel chose to commit an act of piracy against Turkish shipping.

That's the kind of decision that requires a little forethought.

All things equal, militaries prefers to avoid the inconvenience and uncertainty of a long distance action and conduct their operations close to home.

There does not appear to have been much tactical justification for conducting the assault in international waters.

The need to surprise the flotilla a day ahead of its expected confrontation near Gaza apparently did not concern Israel's insouciant commandos (what's with the paint guns, anyway?).

Keeping the action offshore and away from prying eyes doesn't seem to have been a priority, either. Apparently there were journalist embeds, including one from AP, who were brought along on the Israeli ships to witness the event.

Even if the military is on board, the most refractory Israeli government hardheads realize there's a difference between dropping the hammer on some pesky activists inside Israel--business as usual--and openly attacking a ship in international waters--an international incident.

But somebody pointed at a spot on the map way out in the Mediterranean anyway and said, we'll do it here.

So, I take the assault as a premeditated slap at Turkey which, in addition to facilitating the flotilla, has incurred Israeli wrath by mediating the Tehran Research Reactor fuel swap initiative.

By taking the ships at sea, Israel was declaring to Turkey that Turkey would be foolish to assume that it enjoys the rights, protections, and impunity it believes it deserves as an important regional and Islamic power.

As to the diplomatic cost, well, I think that for Israel's confrontation-based security policy a sworn enemy is more useful than an equivocal friend.

So, there might have been some geopolitical logic beyond thuggish impatience involved.


Dick Durata said...

I believe it was a deliberate slap at Obama as well.

blowback said...

The Israelis think they depend for their survival on their ability to persuade the rest of the world that they have one of the finest militaries in the World. After the retreat from Lebanon in 2000, the retreat from Gaza in 2005, the failure in Lebanon in 2006 and the failure in Gaza in 2009, the trophy cabinet is looking a little bare, so we get these crap stories about reactors in the Syrian desert, arms convoys in Sudan, secret submarine bases in Eritrea, submarines sailing through the Suez canal, submarines on patrol off Iran, exercises over the length of the Mediterranean, ect.
The some Turks announce that they are sending a few civilian ships to break the blockade of Gaza and the IOF immediately get a hard-on for some dearing-do far out at sea using using commandoes to help rebuild their reputation. The trouble is that the IOF is far too used to beating up, blinding and killing mostly unarmed Palestinians and their supporters to pull off even a half-arsed operation like this. Getting the Border Police to do in Israeli territorial waters just wasn't glamourous enough.

BTW, they actually depend on their air force and the USA

Unknown said...

I think the "tactical" decision to carry out the assault in international waters may have had a lot more to do with the fact that it was probably the last chance to mount the operation under the cover of darkness - the flotilla was less than 12 hours sailing from Gaza when it was intercepted.

Secondarily, well it's Israel trying to demonstrate that it disposes of a great deal of freedom of action - something that it's been trying so hard to emphasise over the past few years that one rather suspects that it is overcompensating for the fact that in certain areas it now understands that its wings have been severely clipped.

Overall, I get the impression that the Israelis have been floundering badly ever since Kim il Bibi got elected the first time around.

If we just take a look that the first five months of this year, who have they been bitch-slapping other than the Palestinians?

The US, Turkey, UK, Australia, France all readily spring to mind - and they're supposed to be their mates. Have they done anything to hurt Iran, Syria or Hizbullah recently? - not that I can see.

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