The annual UNGA resolution on Israeli nuclear weapons – much ado about nothing.

Despite attempts by Israeli and some Arab and Iranian media outlets to dramatize it, the resolution merely copies the eight previous identical resolutions that have been adopted since 2015.

A wide view of the General Assembly meeting that heard a report of the Human Rights Council. Credit: U.N. Photo/Eskinder Debebe.
A wide view of the General Assembly meeting that heard a report of the Human Rights Council. Credit: U.N. Photo/Eskinder Debebe.
Alan Baker (JCPA)
Alan Baker
Amb. Alan Baker is director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

As part of the annual three-month “Israel bashing” festival at the United Nations General Assembly, an automatic majority of 146 states adopted, on Dec. 7, one of its annual resolutions calling upon Israel to renounce possession of nuclear weapons and to place its nuclear facilities under international supervision. Only six states voted against the resolution—Canada, the United States, Palau, Micronesia, Liberia and Israel.

Anyone familiar with the UNGA should not be surprised or even bothered by the automatic repetition of archaic resolutions, year after year, singling out Israel for all the various ills of the world. Apart from elements within Israeli media seeking to sensationalize and dramatize such resolutions, as well as some politicians and officials unfamiliar with the machinations of the United Nations, no one gets excited or bothered by them.

Even within the United Nations itself, the annual anti-Israel festival in the General Assembly, based on an automatic, politically driven majority, has become a routine and unavoidable irritant for all except the Arab and African states that sponsor them. Such resolutions certainly do not and are not intended to advance the cause of Middle East peace. Nor do they achieve anything other than stain the reputation of the organization.

They are endured by most states that, out of political correctness and fear of Muslim backlash, simply go along and even support them, knowing that they are meaningless.

Substantively and legally speaking, such resolutions, like all General Assembly resolutions, have no binding legal authority and represent nothing more than the collective, partisan political viewpoint of the automatic majority of states that regularly vote against Israel, no matter what the subject.

This particular resolution seems to have attracted both the Israeli and, curiously, Iranian media.

The resolution was sponsored by the Palestinians together with 20 Arab and African countries, including Israel’s allies in the Middle East such as Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.

Titled, “The risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East,” the resolution stresses the fact that “Israel remains the only State in the Middle East that has not yet become a party to the Treaty [on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons].” It goes on to express concern regarding the threats posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons to the security and stability of the Middle East region.

The resolution “reaffirms the importance of Israel’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and placement of all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, in realizing the goal of universal adherence to the Treaty in the Middle East.” It calls upon Israel “to accede to the Treaty without further delay, not to develop, produce, test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons, to renounce possession of nuclear weapons and to place all its unsafeguarded nuclear facilities under full scope Agency safeguards as an important confidence-building measure among all States of the region and as a step towards enhancing peace and security.”

Despite attempts by Israeli and some Arab and Iranian media outlets to dramatize and present this resolution as a novel and newsworthy item and as a cause for concern, especially to the Israeli political establishment and public, in fact it merely copies the eight previous identical resolutions that have been adopted every year since 2015 when the item was first placed on the agenda of the General Assembly.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968

The NPT was drafted in 1968 as the main, universal engine within the international community to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and further the goal of achieving nuclear and general disarmament.

The treaty instituted and maintains a safeguards system under the responsibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) whose task is to verify compliance through inspections. The treaty promotes cooperation in the field of peaceful nuclear technology and equal access to this technology for all state parties, while safeguards prevent the diversion of fissile material for weapons use.

All states of the Middle East region, including some of the most extreme and fanatical states such as Iran and Syria, are parties to the NPT and as such are obliged legally to accept comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and place themselves under supervision.

Israel’s position

However, clearly, the extent to which such states openly violate their NPT obligations, and persistently threaten Israel, is indicative of the inherent weakness and lack of reliability of the supervision system.

Hence, Israel’s hesitation with regard to acceding to the NPT stems from its insistence on the prior establishment and maintenance of stable regional security conditions as part of a framework involving regional security and arms control dialogue.

Israel has consistently claimed that such a stable regional security framework could only be attainable in the context of a multilateral peace process. Without such a regional framework, Israel is not prepared to commit itself to the obligations of the NPT while other regional powers maintain a state of war with Israel and constantly threaten Israel’s very existence, even while being parties to the NPT.

Israel’s detailed and principled position was presented to the Director General of the IAEA in an official communication from Israel’s permanent representative to the IAEA on Sept. 7, 2004.

Despite Israel’s principled position and its policy of “nuclear ambiguity,” whereby it has never admitted to developing, producing, acquiring, or possessing nuclear weapons, Israel nevertheless adheres fully to the most stringent nuclear safety and security guidelines at its nuclear facilities.

However, the unending preoccupation of the international community with Israel’s refusal to accede to the NPT has become a constant catalyst for politicization and baseless allegations and suppositions with regard to Israel’s supposed nuclear capabilities, generating repeated calls for Israel to renounce possession of nuclear weapons. Hence the present resolution during the ongoing 77th session of the UNGA.

Clearly, no non-binding, politically generated resolution of the General Assembly, even if adopted year after year for eight consecutive years by a large majority of states, can oblige Israel to act against its national security interests by binding itself to a framework of regional and international obligations vis-à-vis those regional states that openly display hostility and threaten Israel’s annihilation.

In decrying the actions of the Arab states in repeatedly raising the issue, at the 65th regular session of the IAEA General Conference, on Sept. 23, 2021, Israel’s representatives said:

“The issue was completely unrelated to the agenda of the General Conference and beyond the scope of the Agency’s mandate. It politicized the Agency to a significant extent, undermined its professional integrity and diverted attention from the real problems and challenges faced by the Agency and the non-proliferation regime. Israel’s representatives to the various meetings of the IAEA and the U.N. General Assembly have repeatedly stressed the double standard inherent in the constant criticism of Israel, while at the same time appeasing the ever-challenging Iranian nuclear program, which continues to evolve both publicly and covertly.

“The Agency’s numerous regular and special reports reflected the fact that Iran remained in serious non-compliance with its safeguards obligations. Its constant failure to provide credible explanations for traces of uranium found at undeclared, massively sanitized sites was a grave concern. The existence of undeclared nuclear material and activities and of a fully documented nuclear weapons program left no doubt that Iran was working towards a military nuclear program.

“The international community should not ignore the facts and evidence on the ground in favor of appeasing Iran, a tactical manoeuvre that had never yet prevented its malicious, obstructive and destabilizing actions at the regional level or in the nuclear realm and never would. Such manoeuvres would not sway Iran’s clear ill intention to pursue a nuclear weapon program.

“Syria, Iran’s fellow violator, had been in non-compliance with its safeguards obligations for more than a decade, during which time it had consistently failed to cooperate with the Agency’s investigation to clarify the origin of a significant number of uranium particles. Syria’s lack of compliance and cooperation set a dangerous precedent for current and future cases, including the DPRK and Iran — two great allies of the Syrian regime.

“The continuous abuse and politicization of the General Conference by some Member States was regrettable. The annual agenda item on Israeli nuclear capabilities, for instance, was politically driven and contradicted the spirit of the Agency. The repeated explicit threats made by Iran and its proxies to attack Israel’s nuclear facilities must not be ignored.

“The path to safety and security could not be paved with continuous resolutions and active denouncements of Israel. Israel calls upon the Arab Group to honor the will of Member States, cease its obstructive behavior and refrain from the item’s inclusion at future sessions of the General Conference.”

Ambassador Alan Baker is director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.

This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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