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Disarming Israel

12:08 PM, May 6, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Eli Lake has another big scoop:

President Obama's efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons threaten to expose and derail a 40-year-old secret U.S. agreement to shield Israel's nuclear weapons from international scrutiny, former and current U.S. and Israeli officials and nuclear specialists say.

The issue will likely come to a head when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Mr. Obama on May 18 in Washington. Mr. Netanyahu is expected to seek assurances from Mr. Obama that he will uphold the U.S. commitment and will not trade Israeli nuclear concessions for Iranian ones.

Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, speaking Tuesday at a U.N. meeting on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), said Israel should join the treaty, which would require Israel to declare and relinquish its nuclear arsenal.

"Universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea, ... remains a fundamental objective of the United States," Ms. Gottemoeller told the meeting, according to Reuters.

You really have to read the whole thing to understand this complicated story. As President Obama's meeting with new Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu approaches, there will be tremendous pressure on both leaders to demonstrate that they can work together effectively. It was in that context that Joe Biden both assured the crowd at AIPAC this week of the administration's commitment to Israeli security while also demanding that Israel "work for a two-state solution ... not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow Palestinians freedom of movement." Likewise, Netanyahu, in a video address to the conference, assured his American audience that he was committed to the two-state solution and the peace process.

Indeed, despite a change of government in both countries, these were essentially the same rules as before. Condi would demand greater freedom of movement for the Palestinians and the dismantling of outposts, and the Kadima government would participate in the Annapolis process even though it was little more than a charade.

However, with Lake's report comes evidence that the Obama administration is not like all the others that preceded it, and that it may well plan to fundamentally change the relationship between the United States and Israel. The comments by Gottemoeller are absurd -- none of these countries is going to surrender their current arsenals and allow full inspections by the international community -- but another comment by Bruce Riedel, who headed the Obama administration's "AfPak" strategy review, offers a more credible view into the adminsitration's thinking:

"If you're really serious about a deal with Iran, Israel has to come out of the closet. A policy based on fiction and double standards is bound to fail sooner or later. What's remarkable is that it's lasted so long."

The Obama administration may make Israel's nuclear deterrent a bargaining chip in their negotiations with Iran -- negotiations that Secretary Gates says today have only a "very remote" chance of producing a favorable outcome. It's a big bet, but at least Obama's playing with someone else's security.