A pre-emptive strike on Iran will blow apart the Middle East, and Israel will suffer long and hard. Don't do it.

The world’s nuclear watchdog report arguing “credible proof” Iran might be capable of producing a nuclear warhead has sparked dangerous chat of a military pre-emptive strike to take out the Ayatollah’s baby.

Any hysteria prompted by the report  should really be directed to the sabre-rattling for a precision strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) revealed little that we did not already know about Iran, its ambitions, difficulty with transparency, and its cat and mouse game with the IAEA.

It would be fair to say that Iran’s regime is not flavour of the month within the country, let alone outside it. The failed 2009 Green Revolution gave the world a birds-eye view of the ugly theocracy and its bizarre and unpopular president. When the diminutive Ahmadinejad addresses the United Nations, most delegates leave the premises, while the rest stay to watch a routine that would be comical were it not actually serious.  It follows that the notion that this man could possibly ever have his finger on an atomic button is truly frightening. But to date, there’s no evidence that he will be in that position any time soon.

Trying to stop Ahmadinejad or his successor by bombing ‘before it is too late’ as the Israelis are pleading, is probably more frightening than living with an Iranian bomb which the Iranians themselves say they do not want (and yes they’ve lied before about their nuclear programme so why believe them at all).

What, however, would a precision strike achieve?

It is highly possible it would spark another Middle East war as Obama warned Netanyahu last year when the Israeli PM was considering the very possibility of a surprise attack on an alleged existential threat which would conveniently unite his fractious coalition government.

A military blitz would definitely serve as a recruitment poster for terrorists hungry for revenge. Hamas and Hezbollah are already itching for reasons to make life difficult and painful for Israel. As Iranian proxies they would consider themselves unleashed to avenge their protector.

It would push the price of oil through the stratosphere at a time when the world economy is going in exactly the opposite direction.

It would be very likely Iran would disrupt shipping – including about 40% of the world’s oil – through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.

It would be highly unlikely to actually destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities which are believed to be embedded deep into mountains as well as scattered throughout both remote and densely populated areas of the country. Rather, as with the Stuxnet computer virus - widely considered a joint Israeli-US effort – a military strike would possibly delay by only a few years the Iranian project.

It would therefore give Iran every reason to pursue a nuclear warhead if indeed it is not presently doing that.  After all, true to the deterrent character of nuclear weapons, if Iran already had a bomb no-one would mess with it. Better get one asap.

Cue North Korea. It has nukes, is reckless with them and it is not an adherent to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as Iran is, and professes to want to remain so. No-one bombs North Korea while it slowly starves its own people while building its nuclear capacity. Ah, but it doesn’t have oil so who really cares?

Cue Pakistan, whose nuclear arsenal should be of massive concern to the world given its size, the instability of its government and growing domestic anger at being attacked by drones whenever the US sees fit.  No-one bombs Pakistan’s nukes – rather the Americans pay billions of dollars a year to try and keep them safe while using the country for its strategic value in the never-ending war in Afghanistan.

Bombing Iran would be a gross violation of that country’s sovereignty, and if carried out by Israel or the US would be a clear case of two nuclear armed countries deciding the rules when they have absolutely no right to do so.

In the past Israel’s self-appointed nuclear facility destruction crusade has seen it breach international law when in 1981 it took out Iraq’s nuclear reactor which was being built for civilian purposes with French assistance. It also bombed Syria to stop construction of an alleged nuclear reactor there only four years ago.

Israel’s Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni has spent the last few days on a media offensive to drum up support for the UN to consider a military option against Iran.  She prefers that to continuation of, or turning the screws on the harsh economic and political sanctions Iran is now subjected to until it proves it is co-operating with the IAEA – something Israel refuses to do concerning its own deadly stash.

Trouble with sanctions is that not everyone in the world agrees with them, especially if there is money to be made out of being in business with the sanctioned party -cue China; or not a fan of actions designed to force regime change or destroy potential negotiations – cue Russia...and a few others. The veto-holding Security Council powers are split and will remain so.

Livni is demanding Iran abide by the rules of the UN and be open about its nuclear intentions. Apparently her ‘one-kitchen-implement-calling-another-noir’ routine with reference to UN resolutions is serious.

The geo-political realities are she will never get a UNSC green light for an attack on Iran. Nor should she or anyone else. Not every issue is solvable militarily.

So, what’s the big deal with an Iranian bomb, apart from the normative desire to rid the world of all nuclear weapons, including America’s and Israel’s?

Iran has had biological and chemical weapons for years and there is no documented case of the regime supplying these to terrorists in order to attack those who wish ill on the Iranian regime. Nothing to match the proliferation activities of Pakistan's A.Q. Khan.

Ahmadinejad may present as a prize political whack-job, but there is no evidence he wants to destroy his country for the satisfaction of being the first to fire nuclear weapons into Israel. The Israelis would respond in kind – and then some.  Given the superior nature of their detection technology and missile know-how, they would do more damage to Iran than it ever could to Israel. Sooner, faster and harder. Add to that the surety of Washington jumping right in to any of that sort of action thank-you.

Ironically, Israel’s own nuclear armoury argues against the country’s case for denying Iran.

No matter how massive the grievances against Israel of those Middle East countries which surround it, including those Israel has invaded, none has invaded Israel for the simple reason that Israel’s nukes are a deterrent.

Nothing indicates Obama is any closer to attacking Iran than he was when Israel was pushing this as its key foreign policy concern last year. But then, as now, the US could be drawn in reluctantly because its troops in neighbouring Iraq would be obvious response targets of an irate Iran.

US troops are not yet out of Iraq, and that could be a factor in Israel’s current calculations.

If Israel does go it alone, it will be committing an act of war over a possibility that might never have actually eventuated, might not work and will certainly stretch Israel's conventional capacity.

Then it will be too late, and there will be no going back for Israel or the region which needs nothing less than more war.

The most obvious by-product is Iran will have a damned good reason to pursue nuclear weapons for the simple act of defending itself against a proven, hostile, nuclear-capable regional enemy.    

Comments (7)

by Tim Watkin on November 11, 2011
Tim Watkin

Pot kettle black with Israel on this, isn't it. The rules are for the other people, not us.

Wasn't it telling, Sarkozy and Obama's exchange on Natanyahu, with the Frenchman calling him a liar and Obama rolling his eyes and saying he has to deal with him every day!

by barry on November 11, 2011

"No matter how massive the grievances against Israel of those Middle East countries which surround it, including those Israel has invaded, none has invaded Israel for the simple reason that Israel’s nukes are a deterrent."


I agree with the article, but not this paragraph.  There are many other reasons why none of Isreal's neighbours have invaded it in recent years.  It would take imminent destruction of the Isreali state to get Isreal to use nukes, and none of the likely adverseries is capable of that.

by Libertyscott on November 11, 2011

You say this "Cue North Korea. It has nukes, is reckless with them and it is not an adherent to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as Iran is, and professes to want to remain so. No-one bombs North Korea while it slowly starves its own people while building its nuclear capacity. Ah, but it doesn’t have oil so who really cares?"

This level of analysis is rather wanting.

For starters, how is it "reckless" with them? It has undertaken a couple of tests, and no doubt will test again, but besides the occasional DMZ skirmish, it is focused entirely on self preservation.  As bizarre and cruel the regime is, it doesn't have a holy mission and doesn't believe in an afterlife. It does not want to wipe South Korea off the face of the earth or Japan, and its anti-American rhetoric is driven by a racist nationalism more than any detailed strategy.  It is playing a game of perpetual blackmail, in order to get money and food aid because of its impoverished Stalinist run economy.

Secondly, it withdrew from the NPT.  Pakistan also is not in the NPT.  Iran is in the NPT and Iran has been found wanting in terms of its obligations.

Presumably you support multilateral arrangements and agreements as a way of countries interacting with each other.  In which case, Iran's NPT breaches are of international concern.  There is no international legal framework to "punish" Israel or Pakistan, and the UN Security Council has already passed resolutions on Iran, so it is qualitatively different already from a legal perspective.

Thirdly, why does no one bomb North Korea?  Maybe because it has a standing army of one million, half of whom are 20 minutes by land (5 minutes by missile) from Seoul - with chemical, biological and nuclear capability, and Japan is only 30 minutes away.  A surgical strike of the Yongbyon nuclear facility would be unlikely to get through the formidable air defences of this relatively small country, and would risk the lives of tens of millions of people in short order. Oh and North Korea does have abundant mineral wealth, it just finds it rather difficult to dig it out and transport it without any post 1960s technology, or oil.  China is keen to get at it, and if you wanted to start a fight with China by attacking North Korea then fine.

So taking the glib "North Korea doesn't have oil" argument that the conspiracy-theory popping far left would trot out is rather banal.  There are very sound reasons for not striking North Korea, because it would be far more dangerous than striking Iran, a far larger country, with far more hesitancy about striking its neighbours.

Comments on Pakistan's nukes without mentioning India (the reason why they exist) are equally rather empty.  India has every incentive to deal to Pakistan's nuclear capability, but you may understand why it wont.

Most of the world cheered Israel's destruction of Saddam's early 80s attempt at nuclear capability, and few blinked when it did the same against Syria.  Both worked, unless you're willing to remain blind to the scenario of a Middle East with Saddam having had nuclear capability in the 1980s.  One can't be surprised that Israel has nuclear weapons, if you were them, wouldn't you, given the Arab world's military efforts to wipe it out three times?

However, given you seem to apply moral equivalency to Israel alongside Iran.  If you think Israel shouldn't exist as a state, be honest about that, and a debate can be had.  If you think Israel's actions in the occupied territories mean it should put up with a regional power that threatens its destruction having nuclear weapons, then be honest about that.  If you think Iran, with its record of suppressing dissent, executing minors, suppressing religious freedom and support for Islamist terrorism deserves to be treated with "respect", then be honest about that.

By the way I am not convinced that Iran's nuclear capability CAN be dealt to by military action - but it is clear that option shouldn't be off the table.  North Korea lied blatantly about its nuclear programme until it was too late, there is little reason to believe Iran isn't pursuing the same approach.

by Ian MacKay on November 12, 2011
Ian MacKay

USA sponsored the Iraqi war against Iran for 10 years in the 80s. Even supplying Iraq with poisonous gas weapons which were used against Iran. The Iraq/USA team could not beat Iran and finally Iran who had never attacked any other country, crossed over into Iraq and were poised to over-run Iraq when the decision was made to withdraw and the war was over. But who would doubt that the oil interests are still looking for an excuse - again.

by Mike Osborne on November 13, 2011
Mike Osborne

" When the diminutive Ahmadinejad addresses the United Nations, most delegates leave the premises, while the rest stay to watch a routine that would be comical were it not actually serious."


The BBC article states "Diplomats from more than 30 countries, including the US and EU nations, left the hall as he attacked the West, denounced Israel and questioned the Holocaust.".

Given that there are 192 nation members of the UN, 30 odd hardly represents "most delegates". Most Western delegates perhaps.


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