If you can’t wait for Christmas for the pantomime, I can tell you where you can see a performance today – but you’ll have to travel to Vienna for it. That’s where six of the world’s great powers – including our most wonderful allies Russia and China – are talking to the Iranian Islamic dictatorship about their project to build the atomic bomb. Sorry, I mean of course their peaceful use of atomic energy. I leave aside for the moment the question of why a nation which sits on more oil than water should require nuclear power to keep the lights on.
Today is the deadline when the current round of talks must conclude. The purpose of these talks, and the threat of sanctions against Iran, is not to prevent that country’s acquisition of the bomb, but only to fudge, delay and generally play for time and hope, in the words of the International Atomic Energy Commission, “…enough progress may be made to reassure Iran’s neighbours.”
Which, being interpreted, means to try to discourage Israel from a military attack on Iran’s bomb factories.
The IAEA is referred to as a “watchdog.” It can certainly bark, but it has no teeth. The IAEA was powerless to prevent either Pakistan’s or North Korea’s obtaining the bomb. To what shall I liken this reliance on the IAEA? It is as if you should wake in the middle of the night and discover the house is one fire and, instead of phoning the fire brigade, ring The Guardian and ask them urgently to send round half a dozen of their finest journalists. The IAEA resembles the UN peacekeeping force, which is a wonderful institution – if you discount the fact that it has never anywhere or at any time kept the peace.
So what will happen when the deadline is reached? My guess is that it will be extended. More fudge, delay and playing for time. More ganging up of the great powers to cajole, falsely reassure and threaten Israel on the dire consequences which would follow any unilateral military operation on its part.
Will Israel accept an extension of the deadline? It’s hard to tell. But it should be emphasised that the matter for the Israelis is not theoretical, as it is for the great powers and their poodle the IAEA. For Israel the issue is existential, because the Iranians have threatened many times to wipe Israel off the map.
In June 1981, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactors at Osirak. At the time Israel issued a statement which set forth the so called Begin doctrine which stated that this attack should not be regarded as a one-off but as “a precedent binding on all future governments of Israel.”
So at midnight tonight when the deadline is arrived at, what should Benjamin Netanyahu do? Should be listen to the soft-soapers, the great powers, be reassured by the Job’s comforters in the IAEA and sheath his sword?
Or send in the IAF?
What would you do if you were ultimately responsible for your country’s security, its continuation or its destruction?