Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The mounting danger to peace and prosperity


So will Israel attack Iran? It's become a live issue, given the Iranians' increased (but overestimated) push on the nuclear front. It's pretty clear that the debate in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is now centred around a potential attack on Iran's nuclear ambitions before they can come to a head. They've not decided on it, by any means, and they've been mulling it over for years, but it's now high up on the agenda.

It's a nightmare scenario. Oil prices will rise - as they have been already. The Americans may get drawn in, especially if Israeli forces attack during a US Presidential election. In that case, Iran will use 'swarm' tactics on American and allied shipping in the Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz (above) to prevent shipping getting in and out - leading to some grisly and bloody battles that will put immense political and moral pressure on the West to find a negotiated way out.

And it's unlikely to stop Iran, in the end. Israel did prevent Saddam Hussain getting the bomb in 1980 with an airborne strike similar to that undoubtedly on the drawing board right now - and conducted a similar attack on Syria in 2007. But the Iranian regime has been very careful to scatter its plants and knowledge, and to hide much of it underground - if we're to believe security sources, which one might not after the debacle about Iraq's non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction. All the same, Israel and its sometime backers risk lining up the Iranian civil population behind their government, losing the moral high ground and destroying the potential to make only a very few low-payload bombs that will be hard to deliver for some time. It's a hard call, sure. I'm glad I'm not making it. But on balance the waiting game just seems better.

The alternative? The end of all hopes for global economic recovery for some years to come, for one thing. An oil price spike that will force up interest rates and cause an economic winter that we've barely tasted as yet.

So President Obama's playing for time. I don't blame him.

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