Israel said Monday it would ratify a treaty banning nuclear tests, a move that could be significant for Middle East peace, but only at “the right time.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Lassina Zerbo, the visiting head of the UN organization created to implement the treaty, that Israel supports the terms and therefore signed it, his office said in a statement.
But the further matter of ratification depends on “the regional context and the appropriate timing,” Netanyahu said.
His comments were backed up by Zerbo, who told The Associated Press after their meeting that the prime minister considered the issue of ratifying the treaty a matter of “when, rather than if.”
Israeli ratification would move the treaty closer to taking effect, leaving only seven holdouts among the 44 countries that must ratify it for the pact to go live.
Zerbo came to Israel at the invitation of the head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, Zeev Senir. It was Zerbo’s third visit to Israel and was made to mark the 20th anniversary of the treaty being opened for signatories.
While the prime minister did not commit himself to a specific time frame for ratification, Zerbo said that is “normal in diplomacy.”
He said ratification by Israel would help pave the way for a nuclear test-free zone in the Middle East.
According to the UN, by signing a treaty a country expresses willingness to accept the terms while allowing a period for domestic approval, and “does not establish the consent to be bound.” Ratification is an indication of “consent to be bound to a treaty.”
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, known as the CTBT, has 196 member states — 183 that have signed the treaty and 164 that have ratified it. But the treaty has not entered into force because it still needs ratification by eight countries that had nuclear power reactors or research reactors when the UN General Assembly adopted the treaty in 1996: the United States, China, Iran, Israel, Egypt, India, Pakistan and North Korea. The treaty was embraced by the United Nations on September 10, 1996.
Israel has never officially admitted to possessing nuclear weapons, with successive governments maintaining ambiguity and indicating that the Jewish state would not be the first to use them in a conflict. However, the country is widely estimated to have some 80-200 nuclear warheads.
The early 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and related technologies, has not been signed by four countries — India, Israel, Pakistan, and South Sudan.