What Iran’s nuclear programme can do to you

Another month, another Iranian physicist blown up. The story is making a bit of a splash in the press, but it’ll be forgotten tomorrow, ousted perhaps by reports of a pop star overdosing on heroin or the price of spuds going up. NIMBY, shrug the British at every opportunity, implying that if it’s not happening in their back yard it doesn’t matter.

In 1938 Neville Chamberlain summed up this attitude by branding the conflict brewing between Nazi Germany and Czechoslovakia as ‘a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.’ And care even less, was the unspoken refrain. We know what happened next, and why the quintessentially British disdain for foreign affairs turned out to be ill-advised.

But that was yet another history lesson that went unheeded, another exam failed. Moreover, the inept pupil who failed the exam is still remembered fondly by some. For example, John ‘Maastricht’ Major once singled out Chamberlain as his role model among erstwhile British Prime Ministers. You don’t say, Sir John.

What was myopic folly in the age of Stukas and Messerschmitts can become suicide in an age of ICBMs and nuclear warheads. And yet Iran and Israel are today’s Germany and Czechoslovakia of 1938: two far-away countries that have nothing to do with us. Iran’s nuclear programme, which the Israelis are desperately trying to slow down, is being viewed with Olympic detachment. We don’t seem to realise that it’s not only the economy but also war that these days knows no private back yards. We’ve gone global, ladies and gentlemen.

There is no forensic evidence that it’s indeed Mossad that’s blowing up Iranian nuclear physicists and sabotaging factories, but we aren’t in a court of law now. Where we are, the ancient Cui bono? principle is as good as prima facie evidence. Whether Mossad is acting alone or hand in glove with the CIA is the only question still unanswered in the realm of common sense.

Most accounts of the assassination campaign one reads in the press feign impartiality, tinged with barely suppressed opprobrium — as if a country led by a frenzied homicidal madman and one living in constant fear of extinction compete on a level playing field. Are we out of our minds? Just imagine Britain being ringed by countries explicitly committed to driving her into the sea, to use Nasser’s phrase. Would we still think the odd assassination an exorbitant price to pay to delay the aggression? Rather than turning our noses up at the Israelis’ desperate attempts to stay alive, we should pray they succeed.

For the consequences of a possible nuclear war in the Middle East could well go beyond the radiation fallout that, with the winds blowing the wrong way, could affect us all. The whole world could go up in smoke, and only the Israelis and possibly the Americans can operate the fire extinguisher.

Russia’s role in the events isn’t a minor walk-on. After all, any turmoil in the region, never mind a full-blown war, is going to drive oil prices sky high. Since much of Russia’s economy and most of her exports are based on hydrocarbons, the country doesn’t want peace in the Middle East — it’s that Cui bono? again.

So it stands to reason that the Russian physicist Dr Vyacheslav Denisenko played a key part in Iran’s nuclear programme from its inception (something he denies most unconvincingly). One of his major contributions was the development of the half-sphere-shaped detonator, a device whose importance to peaceful atomic energy isn’t immediately obvious. And Denisenko isn’t the only one: the Bushehr nuclear plant on the Persian gulf has many Russian employees. Exactly how many no one knows, but, whatever the number is, it was reduced after the plane flying from Bushehr to Russia crashed last June. Five top Russian nuclear physicists died, and rumors of Israel’s complicity began to circulate instantly. I certainly hope the rumours are right.

Israel has been singled out for rough treatment in the press everywhere. Out of 196 countries in the world Israel is the only one whose legitimacy is ever questioned, and Palestinian Muslims, with their plight, are the PR stars of the anti-Israel show. We hardly ever hear much of the plight of Jews driven out of most Muslim countries, or brutally oppressed there. No one ever mentions that, say, Baghdad, whose population between the World Wars was one-third Jewish, now has exactly seven Jews left. Nor is our indignation aroused as reports of Christians being murdered in Muslim countries, from Nigeria to Pakistan, reach our ears. Give us Palestinians any day.

This almost universal attitude is usually put down to anti-Semitism, and it’s probably as much of a factor as it was during the Second World War, when Western countries weren’t exactly falling over themselves to save Jews from genocide. But worldwide propaganda waged by Muslim regimes does much to encourage such less than commendable sentiments. Bookshops even in such supposedly modern places as Dubai and Abu Dhabi are full of virulently anti-Semitic literature, with that notorious fake Protocols of the Elders of Zion displayed most prominently. Muslim radio and TV stations spew venom all over the world, expertly linking Israel’s occupation of the West Bank with the West’s colonial past. They know which guilt buttons to push, and we aren’t unduly bothered by their lack of subtlety.

Israel isn’t perfect — no country is. However, I’d say that, by every measurement that counts, it would be in the top 10% of the world’s 196 countries. Moreover, it’s the West’s staunch ally and an oasis of Western liberties in a region where they are despised. That’s astounding in a country that’s permanently in a state of war, either simmering or flaring up. By the standards of war time, Israel’s record on human rights is exemplary, though of course it’s different from ours. But just remember that the West’s most civilised countries suspend many civil liberties whenever the shooting starts. In 1941-1945 America interned all its Nisei Japanese (native-born Americans, most of them); Britain locked up all German refugees (including, illogically, German Jews) in the Isle of Man.

War wreaks havoc on traditional precepts, and Israel for all intents and purposes has been at war since it was founded. Every country has a right to defend itself, and for real politik reasons if no other, we must support Israel’s right to do so. It’s good not only for Israel but also for us that nuclear physics has become a high-risk science in Iran.







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