An Israeli and an Iranian on the Way Forward

December 23, 2013 Topic: Security Region: IsraelIran

An Israeli and an Iranian on the Way Forward

Both states can take important steps to reduce tensions in their relationship.


d. Tests and trust

Iran and Israel are both signatories to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), but neither has ratified it. Their ratification would be very meaningful, as both states would commit not to test nuclear weapons. Globally, both countries play a central role in the entry into force process of the CTBT, as they are part of the group of states whose ratification is required for the treaty to enter into force.


An Iranian ratification of the CTBT is almost self-demanding. The country signed the Treaty in 1996 and has already certified one of the five monitoring stations planned for its territory, although it has yet to connect it to the CTBT’s International Data Center, the forefront component of the Treaty’s verification regime. As first steps showing greater commitment to the CTBT, Iran could begin to transmit data from its certified monitoring station by connecting it to the International Data Center, and continue with the installation and certification of the further stations to be established in its territory. CTBT ratification would certainly be considered a substantial step towards greater nuclear self-restraint and would undoubtedly boost Iran’s credentials in the handling of its nuclear dossier. This would also provide further evidence to Tehran’s claims that its nuclear program is merely peaceful in nature.

Israel’s ratification of the CTBT, which it also signed in 1996, would give it a substantial legitimacy boost and show its commitment to the nonproliferation regime. With Israel specifically, the same can be stated regarding Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) ratification: Israel signed the CWC as early as 1993, but has yet to ratify it. The ratification of this central disarmament treaty would go a long way in proving the country’s seriousness regarding the nonproliferation regime in general, and a meaningful regional arms-control process in particular. This is especially the case since the developments on the Syrian chemical weapons front have rid Israel of its greatest and most consistent concern regarding these weapons. Iran, incidentally, ratified the CWC back in 1997.

Israel’s central concern with both the CTBT and the CWC is the treaties’ verification regimes. Israel fears that these could be misused by Arab states and Iran to force a wrongful challenge inspection or on-site inspection in Israel. This concern, as well as others regarding these treaties, would have to be addressed to enable Israel to ratify.

Bilaterally, ratification of these arms-control mechanisms by Iran and Israel would not likely be publicly and formally considered or intended as confidence building measures vis-à-vis each other. However, this would certainly greatly contribute to a calmer WMD climate in the region.

In a greater regional context, if both states are indeed interested in the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, these particular steps would be significant to that process. A WMD-free zone process, backed by a regional security dialogue, would be meaningful for both states’ security and therefore well-being. As the only two non-Arab states in the region, Iran and Israel share several procedural considerations regarding such a regional process. As such, both countries, for instance, share an interest in promoting a consensus-based decision-making processes in such environments. While, as mentioned, it is not likely that this alone would bring them to formally cooperate, recognizing their shared perspectives and interests could contribute to an atmosphere of greater civility in relations between these two central actors.

Conclusion: the ways forward

Iran and Israel distinguish themselves from the rest of the Middle East due to a combination of factors. They are both non-Arab, non-Sunni states, which have found themselves in conflict with neighboring countries over the years. They are often isolated from the rest of the region and are outnumbered by the Arab majority in the context of multilateral talks and negotiations on regional security. For both states, their unique characteristics make this isolation, whether political or organizational, a potential threat to their security, as they fear that their concerns would not be aptly addressed.

Despite these shared characteristics and what could be recognized as common goals, relations between Israel and Iran would not soon lend themselves to cooperation, so much is clear. However, each can take unilateral steps to reduce tension, promote national interests, build confidence and enhance regional security. No such step would likely be identified formally as meaning to serve as reassurance to the other party. Yet, managing expectations will allow the symbolic and concrete uses of such measures not to be negligible.

The successful social campaign, which began with a viral categorical statement by several Israelis speaking clearly against the possibility of attacking Iran, has developed into a parade of reciprocal symbolic gestures between the two peoples. While relatively small in scale, this experiment seems to show the reluctance of the two peoples to be forced into rivalry. Indeed, the official relationship is tainted to say the least, yet it seems illogical to ignore the societal level and the possibilities therein for a brighter future.

But perhaps the most important step that must be taken by both the leaderships and nations of Iran and Israel is to get to know one another and refrain from making baseless assumptions. So, here are some myth busters to start this enterprise: Yes, Iranians do wear jeans. No, most Iranians do not want to see Israel wiped off the map. No, Iranians do not believe that the Holocaust is a myth. Yes, Israelis, despite being told otherwise, recognize that Iranians are not all out to get them. No, most Israelis do not actually want to get into war with Iran.

Aviv Melamud is an Israeli research associate at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF), a Heinrich Böll Foundation Fellow, and a PhD student at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany.

Ariane Tabatabai is an Iranian Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, a PhD candidate in the Department of War Studies, King's College London, and a non-resident Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

The authors are members of the Middle East Next Generation of Arms Control Specialists Network, created by Dr. Chen Kane at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Image: Flickr/jeanbaptisteparis. CC BY-SA 2.0.

[1]* “The bowl is hotter than the soup” is a Persian idiom, which describes a situation in which a certain party is more eager about another party’s interests than the stakeholder themselves.="#_ftnref1">

[2]** “Walking around as the mourner among the celebrators” is a Hebrew idiom, which refers to the only person who is not taking part in a celebration joined by all (e.g. a wedding). ="#_ftnref2">