A thought occurred to me last night as I watched one of the BBC’s Diplomatic Correspondents, Mark Urban on the channel’s flagship current affairs programmes. Newsnight. And it was that perhaps Iran is egging Israel on to attack her nuclear facilities? Urban’s report focussed on Iran’s big nuclear build out, and the fact that much of the new processing plant is now buried underground, making it even more difficult to destroy. He also suggested that Israel, on her own, would have to use everything at her disposal in one all out air strike attack on Iran, because it seems unlikely that the country could stage another. Of course President Ahmadinejad of Iran continues with the fiction that his country is only interested in the peaceful use of nuclear power, which is quite useful for all of those countries, including Russia, who have continued to supply Iran with the technology and material she needs. But then this is a time honoured ritual. The West was supplying nuclear know how to the late Shah of Iran at the back end of the 1970s.
Most Western commentators reflect an accepted wisdom that there is a 50% chance that Israel will strike Iran, with devastating consequences for the region, not least Israel. They usually fail to report that Israel is herself a nuclear weapon state, which unlike Iran, has not signed the Non Proliferation Treaty. So no UN inspectors have ever set foot in an Israeli nuclear facility – nor are they likely too. What the same commentators don’t seem to grasp, is that if Israel strikes Iran, she will play directly into the hands of the unpleasant hardliners who have shown through their actions against their own people, that they have no intention of ever surrendering power voluntarily.
President Ahmadinejad has further infuriated the Israelis this week with a provocative visit to Hezbollah controlled areas in Southern Lebanon – a stone’s throw from Israel’s northern border. And here is the rub. Should Israel attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, the Iranians will not necessarily unleash some of their missiles, which could in theory pierce Israeli defences, they will declare war on Israel through their surrogates in Southern Lebanon and Gaza. It will be bloody, unrelenting and long.
There is now a desperate urgency for a final peace deal in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians, not least to isolate Iran. What the Middle East so desperately needs now are cool heads and focussed minds. It needs the real spirit of compromise. And in this too, Israel may have to face up to the inevitable – that it cannot destroy Iran’s nuclear capability, and it will have to learn to live in peace with all of its neighbours – and they with it.