why does Israel need WMD?

I've never underestimated Bashar Assad. Slate once praised him, now they think he's a moron. I think that's a premature judgement, given that Syria, in a brilliant diplomatic chess move yesterday, has introduced a UN Security Council resolution calling for the elimination of all WMD in the Middle East. From the BBC:

Syria's draft text seeks a central role for the Council in countering the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the region. It calls on all the countries in the Middle East to ratify a series of arms control treaties, including the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Israel has signed the convention but never ratified it, while Syria has neither signed nor ratified it. Syria's UN Ambassador, Mikhail Wehbe, said Syria would ratify it if all other governments in the region did so.

"It is in the interest of the US forces in Iraq that the Middle East be free of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of mass destruction," Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa said. He added that this would make it difficult for terrorists to get their hands on such weapons.

(Keep your eye on al-Sharaa. He'll be in the news a lot more soon). DailyKos has the most concise capsule summary of the ramifications:

If the US is truly serious about ridding the Middle East of WMDs, it should have no problem endorsing a resolution that would compell Syria to disarm. Right?

Wrong. The resolution would have the (intentional) effect of forcing Israel to surrender its nuclear arsenal -- a course of action Israel would never accept. And the US, Israel's most loyal ally, will thus be forced to veto the resolution.

So picture this -- the US vetoing a resolution calling for the banning of all WMDs from the Middle East. In one fell swoop, Syria has negated the charges of WMDs against it, exposed the US's hypocrisy on WMDs (our allies can have them, everyone else can't), solidified its leadership of the Arab world, and forced the US to veto a seemingly common sense resolution, after blasting France and Russia for threatening vetoes on Iraq.

No one seriously expects that the US would force Israel to get rid of its WMD. So in one sense, the UNSC resolution is a red herring - I am more interested in teh basic assumption that Israel actually needs nuclear weapons. It's common knowledge that Israel's conventional military forces (including its Air Force, which ranks equal with our own in terms of skill) are more than a match for the combined militaries of the entire rest of the Arab world.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, Israel has between 75-130 nuclear weapons, based on production estimates from the secret Dimona reprocessing plant. This stockpile includes warheads for their Jericho-1 and Jericho-2 missiles, which have a range of up to 4,000 km. In addition, Israel has three nuclear-capable submarines (built by Germany). These resources allow Israel to have a full-fledged "strategic triad" of land, air, and sea nuclear weapons, allowing Israel's nuclear reach to extend across the entire globe, not just the Middle East. I blogged with some alarm about this last year.

The Washington Post story about Israel's submarine capability also has this interesting quote from a spokesman for the Israeili Embassy:

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, confirmed that his country had recently acquired three submarines from Germany but would not comment on whether they were being outfitted with nuclear weapons. "There has been no change in Israel's long-standing position not to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East," Regev said.

It will be interesting to see what Mr. Regev has to say about the new Syrian resolution in the Security Council.

Israel also has been selling arms to China:

Israel and China signed an agreement three months ago settling a dispute over the U.S.-scotched sale of a Phalcon early warning system slated for installation on a Chinese air force Ilyushin plane. The United States opposed the deal, because the system could have endangered American planes in the area by giving the Chinese advanced over-the-horizon radar-detection capabilities.

What is the larger picture emerging here? Israel has a right to acquire weapons for defense - and prior to the nuclear triad, I was unconcerned about the Israeili nuclear capability. Then factor in the weapons sales to China, and I begin to wonder if Israel is any more trustworthy than Pakistan or Syria with regards to WMD ownership.

Ultimately, it's clear that the Syrian resolution makes moral and strategic sense for all parties with interests in the Middle East. It's equally clear that it's a pipe dream. But I think it's fair to ask, why are we so intent on safeguarding Israel's WMD capabilities, even at the expense of non-proliferation of these technologies to other less-client states?

UPDATE: I have removed the reference to WMG, as it was foolish of me to take the Sunday Times story seriously. I apologize sincerely for the brief mental idiocy.