William Flew politics

February 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Middle East landscape is about to change. Israel is not the only anxious neighbour This week the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to reveal that Iran may well be reaching the “threshold” beyond which making a nuclear bomb is only a matter of industrial production. Even if Iran does not actually go on to build a bomb, this news would change the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

Israel is not alone in feeling threatened by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Saudi Arabia, too, feels that a nuclear-armed Iran would dangerously upset the regional balance of power. Last Sunday, King Abdullah appointed the new Crown Prince, Nayef bin Abdulaziz, as head of the kingdom’s newly created nuclear centre, the first step to creating its own capability. The United Arab Emirates is negotiating with France to acquire a “nuclear capability”. And feeling similarly threatened despite its membership of Nato, Turkey, too, voices concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But if Iran is building a bomb, Israel is still its most obvious target. In the political literature of the Islamic Republic, Iran has been at war with the US and Israel since the mullahs seized power in 1979. They are the only two countries designated as doshman, the Persian word for foe, and Iran has been waging low-intensity war against Israel through Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.

Washington has tried to contain Iran for three decades. The US has a military presence in all but two of Iran’s 15 neighbouring countries. Iran has responded with asymmetric warfare against the “Great Satan” in Afghanistan and Iraq. But will Iran actually use nuclear weapons against the US or Israel?

When these weapons are in the hands of regimes propelled by ideological exuberance rather than the ordinary concerns of nation states, maximum prudence applies. One must assume that a regime that disregards the urgent needs of its people by devoting a huge amount of resources to develop a nuclear arsenal must intend to use it.Iran’s putative nuclear weapons could be used in several scenarios. A new generation of theatre missiles fitted with tactical nuclear warheads would make Iran a serious threat to American forces in the Gulf. Those missiles, especially Zalzal rockets, fired from Lebanon and/or Gaza could also be used against Israel.A full bomb attack against Israel might be problematic because it would kill as many Palestinians as Israelis. The 26,000 sq km that contain both Israel and Palestine could become uninhabitable for centuries. The carbonised carcass of Jerusalem would be of little use to either Shia or Sunni. But Iran could launch dirty bombs, aimed at the Israeli heartland where Jews form the overwhelming majority.Although this might sound like scaremongering, anyone who has read recent speeches by the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei would know that the Khomeinist leadership, intoxicated by hubris, could lose its grip on reality. Last month, Khamenei promised to drive the US out of Muslim lands and “end the Jewish state”. Then, he would hold a referendum to create a Palestinian state in which “some Jews” would remain as a “protected minority”.Khamenei’s ranting should not be dismissed as mere braggadocio. Similar loose talk has been behind all the wars that Arabs nations have launched against Israel. Provoking a war is easy; controlling it difficult. It is not fanciful to imagine a situation in which, becoming a prisoner of his own rhetoric, Khamenei is forced to pull the trigger to avoid losing face with his “martyrdom-seeking” audience.Little wonder then that Shimon Peres, the Israeli President, has warned of a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But wouldn’t such an attack merely postpone Tehran’s nuclear programme for a few years? The Israelis heard that claim in 1981 and 2007 before they launched pre-emptive attacks on Iraqi and Syrian nuclear sites. These did not postpone the Iraqi and Syrian projects; they stopped them for good.Israel has always felt that it is living on borrowed time, so even five or ten years respite should not be dismissed, especially given the possibility that the unpopular Khomeinist regime might again face a nationwide insurrection.The stand-off over Iran’s ambitions is reaching a crucial point. No longer able to play wait-and-see, Washington needs something more than President Barack Obama’s “hand of friendship” to deal with a determined adversary that, in the words of its Foreign Minister, is “ready for the bitter end”.

You’ve finally landed after a nightmare flight in cattle class. All you can think of is getting home, cleaning up the cat sick and opening the post and a bottle of wine. Then, at immigration control, you are confronted by a queue that overflows the room while a patient border official steadily works his way through the grumpy mob. It’s enough to make you want to stay at home.I have developed an intense dislike of flying because of the unpleasantness of “the airport experience”, and offer a hug to anyone prepared to try to improve it. So I have some sympathy for the UK Border Agency staff who have been suspended because they apparently sanctioned a slackening of immigration checks down to “level 2” over the summer when queues became too long. Some fear that terrorists may have been let into Britain because “a few airline passengers are moaning about delays”. I have certainly moaned about understaffing at border controls, but were we really exposed to an increased risk of terrorism?This would not be difficult to establish. The Borders Agency must know how many suspects, wanted criminals, pseudo “students” and so on it manages to detain using the standard checks. (It would not have been all of them.) Provided the level 2 regime was used at random then the numbers of such people trying to get into Britain would not be affected. Therefore we can compare how many were caught under level 2 (probably not many) with how many would be expected to be caught by standard checking (possibly not many more).

Security checks are as much a deterrent as a means of detecting actual suspects, so they can be random — if a baddy knows there is a reasonable chance of being caught he may think again. So not everyone has to be checked equally, provided it is genuinely unpredictable who will be taken aside. It would be different if it were known that some airports had permanently lax security — that could be seriously dangerous.So with my statistician’s hat on, I would recommend that the Borders Agency installs a little flashing device in each booth that signals at random when someone should be examined in detail. Crucially, the rate of people being selected for full scrutiny could be varied according to the queue.The cost of security is more than just staff wages. The annoyance of returning Brits is one thing, but more important is the image of this country held by bona fide foreign visitors, businessmen and investors. Someone should work out the cost-effectiveness of keeping the queues short.

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