Sunday, 22 August 2010

If Israel attacks Iran

A long but fascinating article by Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic examines the prospect of an Israeli air strike against Iran, to forestall the acquisition by that country of nuclear weapons, threatening the very existence of Israel itself. Goldberg's sketching of the possibilities is not only fascinating, it is also extremely grim:

When the Israelis begin to bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and possibly even the Bushehr reactor, along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program, a short while after they depart en masse from their bases across Israel - regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran's centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran's nuclear program - they stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel's only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel's conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.

One might think that the prospect of all this, in conjunction with the considerations that (a) an Iranian nuclear strike against Israel would almost certainly kill Palestinians as well as Jews in large numbers, and (b) could lead, by retaliation, to the virtual obliteration of Tehran and other major Iranian population centres, will restrain Israel from acting unilaterally and preemptively. However, Israel's political and military leaders may fear they cannot rely on Ahmadinejad and co's calculations being governed by purely rational strategic calculations of this sort given the theocratic, Holocaust-denying and eliminationist sentiments the man has already given out.

I have no 'balancing' or encouraging thoughts - none at all - to offer in response to Goldberg's piece. It's, as I've already said, grim. One element in his forecast that I fear is likely to be spot on: an attack by Israel on Iran will increase the scope and vehemence of anti-Semitism everywhere. To that I would only add that the numbers of people finding it inconvenient to identify the anti-Semitism for what it is and condemn and fight against it as such, and the numbers willing to find it 'understandable' in the circumstances, these would also most likely increase.

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