Seumas Milne writes: If an attack [on Iran] is launched by Israel or the US, it would not just be an act of criminal aggression, but of wanton destructive stupidity. As Michael Clarke, director of the British defence establishment’s Royal United Services Institute, points out, such an attack would be entirely illegal: “There is no basis in international law for preventative, rather than pre-emptive, war.”
It would also be guaranteed to trigger a regional conflagration with uncontrollable global consequences. Iran could be expected to retaliate against Israel, the US and its allies, both directly and indirectly, and block the fifth of international oil supplies shipped through the Strait of Hormuz. The trail of death, destruction and economic havoc would be awesome.
But while in the case of Iraq an attack was launched over weapons of mass destruction that didn’t in fact exist, the US isn’t even claiming that Iran is attempting to build a bomb. “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No,” Panetta said bluntly last month. Israeli intelligence is said to be of the same view. Unlike Israel itself, which has had nuclear weapons for decades, it believes the Iranian leadership has taken no decision to go nuclear.
The issue, instead, is whether Iran – which has always insisted it doesn’t want nuclear weapons – might develop the capability to build them. So Iran – surrounded by US bases and occupation troops, nuclear-armed states from Israel to Pakistan and Gulf autocracies begging the Americans to “cut off the head of the snake” – is threatened with a military onslaught because of a future potential the aggressor states have long ago turned into reality.
Such a capability wouldn’t be the “existential threat” Israeli politicians have claimed. It might, of course, blunt Israel’s strategic edge. Or as Matthew Kroenig, the US defence secretary’s special adviser until last summer, spelled it out recently, a nuclear Iran “would immediately limit US freedom of action in the Middle East”. Which gets to the heart of the matter: freedom of action in the Middle East is the prerogative of the US and its allies, not independent Middle Eastern states.