During the run-up to Saddam's War, a number of critics of the war raised the issue: "What's wrong with letting Saddam have WMD?? We have WMD. Israel has WMD. Why is his possession of them suddenly a cause for war?"
I never unpackaged my responses to that, which were superficially that it was a stupid argument not worth responding to. Recent discussions here raised the issue, and I realized that my own thinking needs to be taken out and exercised a bit to see if it can really walk around.
There are two parts to this. First is that it's OK for he U.S. to have WMD.
I'm not going to get into this in depth here except to point out that the Americans who take the opposite position (no WMD for the US) have apparently transcended nationalism, which would be a good thing if it weren't for the unpleasant fact that the keys to our lives then get handed to a panel where Robert Mugabe gets equal billing with Tony Blair. Great concept, I foresee some problems in implementation.
I'm an American, and further I'm an American who buys into that whole messy "exceptionalism" thing, so I'm probably not the best audience for that argument.
The second argument, however, is a very interesting one. If the assertion is that it's OK for Israel to have WMD, we open up an interesting discussion.
Because the discussion is so fundamentally tribal, I've put up some comments on my own background over at Armed Liberal, in the event that anyone thinks it matters. Actually, I think it's important to do so in order to make such limits as there may be on my perspective clear to everyone.
OK?? Let's go…
I've never lost any sleep over Israel's possession of WMD. Then again, I've never lost sleep over the UK's or France's possession of them either. But there are some key differences among these three parties.
The UK is fundamentally THE major ally of the US, and as such, my level of comfort in/with them is obviously high. They're good guys. And I believe that the nature of their politics is such that they'd have a hard time becoming not-good guys.
France is not an ally of the US, and I've never believed that it was. But France's desire for WMD (specifically nukes) made historic sense in light of their desire not to be beholden to the US during the Cold War. And while France has geopolitical ambitions, it has no meaningful territorial ambitions, and could not manifest any because it is so deeply embedded in the multinational institutions that link the countries of the West.
Israel is not an ally of the United States either. It often acts like one, but the reality is that we are a better ally to them than they are to us. This is relatively simple to explain, in that unlike every other significant nation I can think of, the existence of Israel is at issue. Israel's policies thus tend to have a rather one-dimensional aspect which makes it difficult to rely on them as allies when any issue comes up that potentially impacts their self-perception of their ability to survive both as a nation and as a population.
Sadly, a lot of issues do.
The basic position of the Arab countries and political movements is pretty well summarized by reading MEMRI (acknowledging it's bias…they probably don't go out of their way to translate and summarize the moderate articles) and Arab News as well as Al-Jazeerra, as well as the official sites of the PA. Basically, they'd like their land back. Their desire for Israel to go away is tempered, in some cases, by a certain willingness to accept 'facts on the ground'. But I certainly haven't found a wholehearted acceptance of Israel's existence from an authentically Arab source (I'd love to be sent one if it's out there), and I have read authentic cries for Palestine "from the river to the sea", as well as the usual litany of LGF-published Muslim threats.
Rhetoric is one thing, action another. By my recollection of history, the collective Arab nations have invaded Israel three times; in 1948, in 1967 (preempted by the Israeli counterstrike) and in 1974. Israel, on the other hand has taken and held Arab territory twice; in 1967, when they took the west Bank, Gaza, and the balance of the Sinai Peninsula and the 1982 invasion of South Lebanon.
In each case, the Arab effort was pretty clearly a war of conquest – a war with the objective of destroying or conquering Israel; in the case of Israel's territorial expansion, it appears that one could reasonably argue that they were primarily tactical, intended to improve their military and strategic position vis-à-vis their opponents.
There are arguments about Gaza and the West Bank in terms of Israel's desire to annex versus occupy – a serious distinction to me – and Israel's behavior in establishing settlements, on the initial argument that they were outlying defense posts, and on far more questionable arguments now – does muddy that water. But if Israel intended to annex the West Bank and Gaza, they could easily have done so and no one could have made them stop (the U.S. might have acted to restrain them, but their willingness to play out of the U.S. handbook is limited).
So a big part of my attitude toward Israel comes from my belief, which I believe is supported by facts, that (past the initial grant of territory in 1948) they have no territorial ambitions, and that if their neighbors would leave them in peace, they would most likely leave their neighbors in peace.
This is a fundamental axiom of my position, and one that somehow doesn't get brought into the light often enough, in my view.
This is getting a bit long for a blog post, so I'll break off now and complete it tomorrow. Let's leave this as a "historic overview and background" for what is to follow, which will talk specifically about Israeli WMD.