US was right to restrain Israeli raidDavid Uwakwe explores the issues surrounding reports that Israel strongly considered launching a missile attack on Iranian nuclear facilites.The report that Israel planned to bomb Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities is indicative of the kind of bull-headed unilateral approach so often favoured by Israel and the US. To date' this has done nothing to resolve the conflicts in the region but has served merely to perpetuate them. Had this attack gone ahead it would have lit a fuse running to powder kegs in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, possibly the US and almost certainly Israel itself, in whose face the whole thing could ultimately have blown up.Many people note that it’s a odd day when the Bush administration should be applauded for something, but 14th May 2008 was one of them. This is reportedly when George Bush denied US support for Israeli President Ehud Olmert’s plan to launch a missile attack on Iran’s nascent nuclear facilities.Had it gone ahead it could not have come at a worse time. Over the past year there has been cause for cautious optimism on a number of separate but ultimately interrelated issues. Last July, French-mediated talks between Syria and Lebanon broached the possibility of normalising relations between those two countries with a view to ending Syria’s overbearing, and at times lethal, influence in the politics of its smaller neighbour.On another important front, Turkey has been arbitrating talks between Syria and Israel that could possibly resolve their frozen conflict over the Golan Heights. This extremely fragile and tentative web of interconnected dialogue taking place throughout the Middle East and beyond requires tender nurture. Needless to say, a missile launch on Iran would wreck these initiatives and, indeed, create even greater instability.It can be invisaged that it was just such considerations on the American side that put an end to the plans. Their fear was that Iran would respond via Hezbollah attacks on US targets in Iraq, Afghanistan and potentially on American soil. At a time when a peace of sorts seems finally to be to coming to Iraq and conflicts in Afghanistan are deteriorating precipitously, neither country needs Ahmedinijad’s intervention.In the dying days of Bush’s administration, with two wars for the next President to extricate the country from, it was well advised of Bush not to leave an even more toxic legacy by sanctioning such an act of Israeli recklessness.
In the dying days of Bush’s administration it was well advised not to leave an even more toxic legacy by sanctioning such an act of Israeli recklessnessPerhaps it was also the global economic situation which was another crucial factor influencing the US President’s decision. In May, when these secret talks took place, the price of oil was about $130 a barrel and rising – there were fears it could reach $200 by the end of the year. Had that attack gone ahead it is safe to say it could easily have reached that upper figure.This is illustrated by the $11 price jump the following month when Israeli Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz said in an interview “attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable”. It can only be imagined what effect an actual attack would have had.Like Russia, Iran has no qualms about closing the pipelines when they want to get a message across. In January 2006, Iran cut gas supplies to Turkey by 70% after the Turkish foreign Minister Abdullah Gul called for ‘transparency’ from Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Again we can be thankful that Mr Bush finally found the brakes on his war horse and reigned in President Olmert.Time still remains for a mixture of diplomacy and sanctions to have further effect. According to the US government’s recent National Intelligence Estimate, Iran is unlikely to produce enough highly enriched uranium to develop a nuclear weapon until at least 2013 and quite possibly not until after 2015.Therefore, there appears to be no need to look beyond the ‘soft power’ approach quite yet. It is true, however, that to date, sanctions and incentives have failed in their ultimate objective of persuading Ahmedinijad to halt uranium enrichment. The carrot of an economic package offered by the EU has been rejected on the grounds that, accordingThat leaves the stick- the imposition of sanctions. Since 2006 there have three rounds of punitive measures slapped on the regime by the US and Europe. These have focused on banning the trade in materials and technology that could be facilitate a nuclear weapons building programme, freezing the assets of banks and individuals thought to be involved in financing terrorist activities and imposing travel bans on senior government officials.The problem with such sanctions is the difficulty in enforcing them. Without the support of Russia and China, or Iran’s neighbours, they are ineffective.The question now is, given the current impasse, how can the new leaders of the US and Israel avoid open conflict and peacefully dissuade Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities, if that is in fact their aim?Thankfully it looks as though there may be significant change of style coming in Washington and Tel Aviv.With about a month to go its still to close to call definitively but Senator Barack Obama is approximately four points ahead of Senator McCain and in Israel, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is in the process of forming a new government following Ehud Olmert’s ignominious resignation amid corruption scandals.One of many taboos Obama has broken in this presidential race was saying that he would personally meet with the leaders of such states as Iran. What good if any this would do is impossible to say but it would undoubtedly breath some badly needed fresh air into the stalemate. On the Israeli side Livni has mouthed the usual rhetoric about how Iran must be stopped in its tracks, but unlike her erstwhile leadership rival Shaul Mofaz she has demurred when it comes to issuing military threats.Should Obama and Livni become the leaders of their respective countries they chould cut out the warmongering and make a positive contribution to the fledgling peace efforts struggling to take hold around the region. After all, what’s the alternative?