Thursday, 16 August 2007

Don't attack Iran

Republican presidential candidate, John McCain is on record as saying "the only thing worse than an attack on Iran is a nuclear armed Iran." I beg to differ.

An attack on Iran would do more than anything else to further destabilise the middle east and strengthen the hand of the hardliners, while making life harder for the coalition troops in Iraq.

At present the Iranian government is unpopular at home and mistrusted at home. It has lost the support of its own people, who are increasingly chaffing at oppressive religious regulations and fed up with economic mismanagement. In much of the Arab world, especially amongst Arab government, Iran is treated with hostility because of its revolutionary designs and its Shia affiliation. A strike against Iran would change all this at a stroke. It would allow the regime to present itself as a victim of aggression, rally support at home and attract support from others hostile to the US. The best way to produce a peaceful relationship with Iran is to encourage reform within Iran itself, an attack would make life impossible for reformers.

Carrying out attacks against Irans nuclear facilities would pose real practical difficulties. They are scattered across hundreds of different facilities and it is doubtful that all of them could be pinpointed. These difficulties become particuarly acute if it is the Israelis rather than the Americans carrying out the strike since they would have to fly bombers across hundreds of miles of hostile territory just to reach their targets.

Iran borders Iraq and if the Iranians so wished they could easily retaliate against an attack by striking out against coalition troops in Iraq. They would have the option of doing so directly with the revolutionary guard or by stepping up their support for the Shia militias. Even if they did not decide to strike back, a recently bombed Iran is highly unlikely to be a constructive force in Iraq.

It should go without saying that any attack would put the lives of civilians and allied military personal at risk.

For me, however, the real problem with threatening military action is that it does not necessarily make it less likely that Iran will go on to develop a nuclear bomb. The possibility that might one day be attacked, is going to make Iran think twice about abandoning a program that might one day produce the most potent form of self defence known to man.

Though living with a nuclear armed Iran would be uncomfortable, plunging ourselves into an ill judged and ultimately counter productive war is not the way to stop this.

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