Yesterday was another typical day in the Israel-Iran dispute, ‘positive’ talks between officials in Brussels followed hours later by Benjamin Netanyahu hawking it up by vowing his readiness to “press the button” on Iran.
The nuclear non-proliferation meeting in Brussels, convened by the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium, saw informal discussions between representatives from Arab states – Israel and Iran foremost among them – the US and Europe, with the mood described as “respectful and positive”.
The officials explored the possibility of holding a UN-sponsored conference on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, with European mediators hoping such a conference represents a way of getting Israel to be more transparent in return for a continuation of Arab and Iranian abstinence from nuclear weapons under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Meanwhile in Tel Aviv last night, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel’s Channel 2:
“I am of course ready to press the button if necessary. As long as I am prime minister, Iran will not have the atomic bomb. If there’s no other way, Israel is ready to act.”
It was also revealed last night that Netanyahu and Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak had ordered the armed forces to prepare a unilateral strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2010 – only to be thwarted by then-Chief of Staff Lt Gen Gabi Ashkenazi (who warned “this is not something you do unless you’re certain you want to see it through”) and then-head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, who said the order was “illegal”.
And David Cameron has also stepped up Britain’s Iran threat preparadness, saying the UK would do “everything to stop” Iran successfully developing nuclear weapons and triggering a “nuclear arms race” across the Middle East. The prime minister said possibile action included the building up Britain’s military presence in the Gulf.
Taking questions from a group of students in Abu Dhabi, he warned:
“If Iran is embarked on trying to acquire a nuclear weapon, as I believe it is, that is a threat in itself, particularly given what Iran has said about other countries in the region, and in particular about Israel, about wanting to ‘wipe it off the map’.
“In itself it is a hugely concerning development, a desperately bad development for our world and that is why we should do everything we can to top it happening. But I think there is a second reasons why it is so why it is so concerning and that is because I think it could trigger a nuclear arms race across the whole region.
“That would consume a huge amount of resources and energy but also I think make the Middle East a more dangerous, more unstable part of the world…
“The message we need to send to Iran is: there is a peaceful path; there is a path you could take that will remove the pariah status from your nation and that is to accept that you could have civil nuclear power but not military nuclear power and then we could have a proper discussion.”
Yesterday, Channel Four’s Dispatches broadcast ‘Nuclear War Games’, a look at what would happen if Israel bombed Iran’s nuclear sites. The programme looked at the consequences of a raid - set to occur three days after the US election (i.e. this Friday) - for Israel, Iran and the wider region: what are the merits of a second strike to “finish the job”? How will Hezbollah and Hamas respond? What will the US reply be? What retaliatory damage could Iran do? How might UN pressure be applied?…
All questions that are being pondered in real life in Israel, situations that will all be modelled, instances for which, as today’s developments remind us, they will have to be prepared.