Sunday, April 11, 2010

Obama Administration Blocks Visas for Israeli Nuclear Scientists, As Egypt and Turkey Push for Inspection of Israeli Nuclear Plant

The Israeli newspaper Maariv has reported that the Obama Administration had denied visas to visit the United States to some Israeli nuclear scientists employed at Israel's Dimona nuclear facility (see photo). According to Maariv: “… workers at the Dimona reactor who submitted visa requests to visit the United States for ongoing university education in Physics, Chemistry and Nuclear Engineering — have all been rejected, specifically because of their association with the Dimona reactor. This is a new policy decision of the Obama administration, since there never used to be an issue with the reactor’s workers from study in the USA, and till recently, they received visas and studied in the USA.” [Source: Roger L. Simon at Pajamas Media]

In what the Kosher Hedgehog believes to be a related story, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu recently cancelled a planned trip to the United States for President Obama's summit on nuclear security summit opening tomorrow. Netanyahu decided to instead send a deputy prime minister to the summit when he learned that Egypt and Turkey planned to raise the issue of Israel's assumed nuclear weapons arsenal at the summit and to demand that Israel sign the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty. By not signing that treaty, Israel has avoided treaty obligations to renounce nuclear arms and admit international inspectors to its Dimona reactor, which experts believe has produced plutonium for between 80 and 200 warheads.

One might speculate whether the US denial of visas to Israeli scientists employed at Dimona is intended to subtly encourage the move by Egypt and Turkey to raise the subject of the Dimona nuclear plant at the nuclear security summit. Egypt has always made an issue of the Dimona plant, since the possibilty of Israeli nuclear weapons has been a continuing strategic deterrent to Arab aggression against Israel. At one time, Turkey had a close military strategic relationship with Israel, to the point of conducting regular joint military exercises, directed primarily at a perceived common threat from Syria. However, in recent years, the current Islamist govenment in Turkey now weakened those ties in favor of closer relations with Iran (the patron state of the Syrian regime). Just last week Israeli-Turkish relations further chilled when, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described Israelas "the principal threat to peace" in the Middle East.

The action by the Obama Administration to deny visas to Dimona scientists can only encourage the Egyptian-Turkish initiative, and may even be a subtle signal by the Obama Administration that it approves the effort to open up the Israeli nuclear program to international inspection. In doing so, the Obama Administration would be buying into the argument heard in Europe and the Islamic world that the US has treated Iran and North Korea according to a double standard, trying to curtail nuclear weapons development in those nations while ignoring the possible existence of a nuclear arsenal in Israel. Previous adminstrations answered such concerns in the manner exemplified by John Bolton in October 2003, when the then under secretary of state for arms control responded to a challenge from London journalists regarding an American double standard by saying, "The issue for the US is what poses a threat to the US." Under the current administration, however, as demonstrated by recent very public diplomatic flaps, Israel is the issue for the US.


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