However had Sen. Brown pursued his research, he would have discovered that the Arab states actually consider Israel’s own (unacknowledged) nuclear arsenal to be a threat to the region. Unfortunately, the nuclear capability of Israel goes unmentioned in his article, highlighting the Arab contention that the West is guilty of double standards by shielding Israel but punishing Iran.

If you look at the history of Israel’s development of its “bomb in the basement”, it succeeded thanks to clandestine work, deception and concealment in much the same way as Iran is accused of now. Could this be why Israel is so deeply suspicious of Iran’s program which Iranian leaders declare to be for peaceful purposes? According to research published in books by Seymour Hersh and Sasha Polakow-Suransky, although Israel claims to have used its nuclear capability in a responsible way since 1967, it used nuclear blackmail during the 1973 war in order to obtain military supplies from the United States.

The proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East is indeed a global threat. Israel recognizes itself that its own security would be threatened by a nuclear arms race that could be triggered if Iran gets a bomb. That is why proposals for a Middle East WMD-free zone have gained increasing international support, with a conference to be held in 2012 as the prime building block.

The United States, after long hesitating, joined the consensus in endorsing the 2012 conference at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference last May. Until that time it had supported Israel’s view that without a comprehensive peace as a precondition such talks would be pointless. Now all agree that – as is happening now with the talks between Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – the peace process and talks on WMD can exist on parallel tracks.

Even the military acknowledge that any attack on Iran would only delay, not halt Iran’s nuclear program and increase the determination of its leaders to get the bomb. Military strikes would reinforce the hardliners against the courageous opposition activists who deserve our support. In other words a sustainable solution to the Middle East nuclear problem needs to be the product of negotiations, not bombs.

This is where the Middle East WMD-free zone comes into play. The conference should take place in a context of all the states in the region – including Iran and Israel – coming together to discuss measures to enhance their security across a broad agenda.  As Sen Brown acknowledges, the Sunni Muslim states of the region – aka the “coalition of the frightened” – are concerned about prospects of a Shia bomb and Iranian regional hegemony, but it is not their only fear.

The Arab states are clamoring for Israel to join the NPT as a non-nuclear state. This is of course a non-starter. Israel – which does support the principle of a Middle East WMD-free zone - says it will refuse to attend the 2012 conference so long as the Arab nations use the forum as an excuse to gang up against the Jewish state. However trade-offs are not hard to imagine if biological and chemical weapons, and long-range missiles are put into the mix.

It won’t be easy, but then nothing ever is in the Middle East. As Sen. Brown will discover it is impossible to dip your toe in the water without getting really wet.

Anne Penketh is Program Director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC)