Israel urges Mideast moratorium on nuclear testing

Tal Shalev

4 min read
special symposium in Vienna launching events marking the 20th anniversary of the CTBT - the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, January 27, 2016
Tal Shalev/i24newsspecial symposium in Vienna launching events marking the 20th anniversary of the CTBT - the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, January 27, 2016

Iranian commitment to abstain from testing should have been part of deal with world powers, says Israeli envoy

VIENNA - Israel supports a regional nuclear test moratorium and calls on Egypt and Iran to reiterate their commitment to the CTBT – the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In a special symposium in Vienna launching events marking the 20th anniversary of the CTBT, the Israeli representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ambassador Merav Zafary-Odiz, said that “a regional moratorium could enhance security, and potentially lead to a future ratification of the CTBT . Israel has announced its commitment to a moratorium, it would be useful for others to do the same.”

The CTBT, signed by 183 UN member states in September 1996, bans all types of nuclear explosions – on and above ground, in the atmosphere, underground, outer space and underwater – for military and civilian purposes. However 20 years later it still hasn’t entered into force because eight states have signed it but not ratified the treaty, among them Israel, Iran and Egypt, together with China and the US, whereas India, North Korea and Pakistan haven’t even signed. De facto, all states except for North Korea have adopted a testing moratorium since 1998.

The CTBTO, the UN body tasked with establishing a verification regime and promoting its ratification, has nevertheless built a monitoring regime with 337 facilities around the globe that can detect a nuclear explosion and transmit data to Vienna for processing and analysis. This monitoring system, for example, picked up at least three of the four North Korean nuclear tests conducted in the past two decades.

Israel, which signed the CTBT in the 1990s, is actively engaged in the monitoring despite its failure to ratify the treaty. Two seismic stations in Israel contribute to the international monitoring system.

Speaking at the symposium, ambassador Zafary-Odiz said the “CTBT is an important confidence building measure in the region. The fact that the data is shared is important and has the potential to contribute to regional confidence building, but only if all stations in the region are built and transfer data, which is not the case.” A CTBTO station in Iran has been inactive since 2006 and Tehran has not yet signed a required activation agreement with the CTBT.

Egypt has traditionally refused to ratify the CTBT without Israel joining the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty which bans the spread of nuclear weapons, but Zafary-Odiz rejected the linkage. “We have to be careful not to make too many unhelpful linkages between the CTBT and other arms control issues. Linking CTBT to NPT is counterproductive, the same goes to recent attempts to introduce issues that are beyond the CTBT. Israel is a sovereign state – the history of the NPT has proved that this was the right decision – four of the five cases of non-compliance with the treaty are in the Middle East.”

A region wide test ban, Zafary-Odiz said, would enhance security throughout the Mideast, and could also contribute to the efforts to establish a WMD-free zone in the Mideast (Weapons of Mass Destruction).Zafary-Odiz criticized the fact that the CTBT ratification was not included in the nuclear deal signed last July between Iran and world powers. “The ratification by Iran was natural … to prove Iran’s intentions for the future.”

Zafary-Odiz echoed comments made earlier this week by the CTBTO executive secretary, Lassina Zerbo, who told reporters he supports a “test-free zone in the Middle East, and then we can start working on the WMD-free zone. Let Israel and Iran agree on the low-hanging fruit, bring people in the Middle East to something that is solid, and prepare the framework for further regional measures.” While most arm control experts believe the key country which hasn’t ratified the treaty and prevents its entering into force is the US, Zerbo said Israel “can unlock the situation. If the Mideast moves forward - that can push the political forces in the US forward as well.”

In recent months various high-ranking Israeli officials have said that “ratification is not a matter of if, but rather when,” and depends on other security related issues, such as Iran recognizing Israel’s right to exist and Egypt dropping the NPT linkage demand.

Tal Shalev is the diplomatic correspondent at i24news.