JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled plans to attend the U.S.-sponsored nuclear security summit next week in Washington after learning that a coalition of Middle Eastern states, led by Egypt and Turkey, intend to use the forum to demand that Israel allow international inspection of its alleged nuclear weapons program.
A day after U.S. Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Ellen Tauscher assured senior Israeli officials that the White House stands behind Israel's traditional policy of ambiguity concerning its nuclear capabilities, unnamed U.S. sources disclosed the Arab plan.
In view of the warning, Netanyahu appointed Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who also serves as Intelligence and Atomic Energy minister, to lead a small Israeli delegation in his place.
Army Radio announced the cancellation late Thursday evening.
"Israel participates in the effort to prevent nuclear technology reaching the hands of terrorists, and on this basis we agreed to take part in the summit. But reports surfacing in the last 24 hours indicated the intention of various states to assail Israel regarding the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]. In summits of this nature, Israel is usually represented on the ministerial and professional levels. The Prime Minister has accordingly decided that Meridor will head the delegation," the statement read.
While not altogether surprising, one official told the Israeli daily Haaretz that it was disappointing.
"The nuclear security summit is supposed to be about dealing with the danger of nuclear terror," he said. "Israel is a part of that effort and has responded positively to President Obama's invitation to the conference…but the intention of several participant states to depart from the issue of combating terrorism and instead misuse the event to goad Israel over the NPT [is disappointing]," he said.
The White House also issued a statement after being informed of Netanyahu's cancellation.
"We welcome Deputy Prime Minister Meridor's participation in the conference. Israel is a close ally and we look forward to continuing to work closely on issues related to nuclear security," White House National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said.
In related news, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed an agreement in Prague on Thursday to reduce each country's nuclear stockpiles by one-third over a seven-year period. In the end, the U.S. and Russia reportedly will retain 1,550 nuclear warheads each.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Russian military officials announced they will deliver the promised the S-300V surface-to-air missile system to Iran, according to contracts signed in 2005.
"Contracts have been signed and they are being implemented. They have not been torn up," said Mikhail Dmitriyev, chief of the Russian Federal Agency for Military Cooperation told the country's state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.
For obvious reasons, Israel has long objected to Russia strengthening Iran's missile cache.
Codenamed the SA-12 Giant by NATO, the S-300V missiles have a range of about 100 miles, can engage multiple targets and shoot down aircraft.