Thursday, 2 February 2012

Is Israel Getting Ready to Attack Iran, and What Will NATO do if it Does?

So, there's a little brouhaha going on on the sidelines of the NATO defence ministerial. David Ignatius at the Washington Post has published a piece saying that Us Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes that the Israelis are getting ready to attack Iran in May or June. Panetta, in Brussels for the NATO meeting, has refused to deny the report.

Clearly this is meant to send a strong signal to Iran that now would be a good time to come back to the table. And Ignatius says that the US has warned Israel against this course of action, and will stay on the sidelines. For their part, the Israelis want (Ignatius says) favour going alone and can hit Iran for five days - but even the hawks he spoke to acknowledge that this will only set Iranian nuclear work back a few years.

Of course, the problem for the Israelis is that this is all fantasy. If Israel attacks, then there will be attacks against Jewish people and organisations around the world, as well as against Israel. There would also likely be attacks against US military targets in the region at the least. Some kind of general war would massively destabilise a volatile region. What's worse, Iran would instantly withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty citing what would be in such circumstances justified national security concerns, and would then be free to go hell-for-leather for the bomb with no legal constraints. Everything in the situation would be much worse.

And what would NATO do? Certainly not join the attacks, but would US nuclear facilities in Turkey be a target for Iranian retaliation? It is possible. What then of the Alliance's Article V defence guarantee? Would NATO be forced to go to war alongside the US and Israel? Such a situation doesn't really bear thinking about.

Meanwhile, Haaretz is reporting a NATO Defence College report which says that NATO must be ready to build much closer links with Middle East allies if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. Haaretz says the report says that NATO should:
.. should consider war games and joint exercises and even expanding cooperation by deploying nuclear weapons in countries that were party to NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative forums.
Now, NATO Monitor hasn't read the full report (we'll post more fully on it soon), but it is hard to see how the Middle East would be made safer by more western intervention in the form of some kind of nuclear stand-off between Iran and Israel/NATO. It is much easier to see that an Israeli/American/NATO attack on Iran would be a disaster in the region and the wider world.

It is deeply depressing that for decades the very powers now seemingly sliding towards an attack on Iran have refused to take seriously either the Arab/Israeli peace process or calls for a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East. No pressure has been put on Israel or other US allies in the region to give up nuclear, chemical or biological weapons as part of a wider process of peacebuilding. Equally, no real pressure has been brought to bear since the 1990s for any meaningful dialogue on the peace process itself. Nor has any meaningful attempt been made to treat Iran as a sovereign state and equal partner in discussing the full range of its security concerns - after all, US policy has been for the overthrow of the current Iranian state for three decades.

There is no simple or easy solution to this complex web of security issues. But allowing the most hardline Israeli government ever to dictate policy for the rest of the world makes no sense, for us or for them. The effort currently being put by hawks into a drive for war would be much better spent on a drive for mutually beneficial threat reduction and confidence building measures that simply have not been tried. In the end, Israel is going to have to live in its region and it can't exist forever in a state of war, heavily defended but with no real security. Iran has a right under the NPT to civilian nuclear technology, and the US and its allies are going to have to live with that. If their leaders could be sure they aren't going to be overthrown by the US, then their incentive to militarise that capability is dramatically reduced - especially if Israel is part of a regional WMD Free deal.

NATO's adventures in Libya and Afghanistan should have taught the alliance that the wider Middle East is a complicated place where simplistic military solutions always lead to wider complications than first expected. It should, therefore, ignore the siren voices calling on it to become involved. 

No comments: