Earlier reports from Washington well before the television debates between the presidential contenders were generally indicative of President Obama's reluctance to move forward on the issue of military strikes against Iran. Hence, Mr. Netanyahu may have been upping the ante for his own political ends or indulging in brinkmanship. It is amazing, however, that the rest of the world seem to be mere spectators in a potential crisis that could engulf the entire region in flames of one type or another, if not the whole world - almost entirely because of one individual and his obsession. The consequences of an Israeli strike and certain Iranian retaliation, in whatever form or in several forms (because they would have taken the Netanyahu threats seriously) would be felt most severely by the Arab countries, the Indian subcontinent and the European Union. The Saudis are equally at fault for their tacit encouragement for this mad enterprise.
Before the situation gets out of hand owing to the actions of a single obsessed individual it is absolutely essential to put an end to such adventurism. There should be no question of an East-West, North-South or any other divide on this issue. The EU, being the closest to the US, especially France and Germany in the EU, must issue a stern warning to the Israeli leader of dire consequences, including trade sanctions should Israel proceed with unilateral action. Similarly, Russia could issue a warning keeping their options open for some form of retaliatory action against Israel should it carry out its threat. Countries like India and other friends of Israel have an equally important role to play by making clear to Israel that Israel could jeopardize its close relations with many friendly countries unless it stands down on its unilateralism. Should the Israeli government do so, it would strengthen the rest of the countries pressing Iran to curb its nuclear weapons potential and to move in far more decisively to obtain the desired results.
Well-wishers of Israel in the US would be doing an enormous disservice to Israel should they continue to goad the US president to strike Iran in a joint action with Israel or as a backer of Israel, obliged to follow up on unilateral strikes by Israel in its attempt to take out Iran's nuclear capability. Those advocating military action do not realize that Osirak simply cannot be replicated today. The precision with which Iraq's nuclear reactor was disabled over 30years ago without any retaliation from Iraq is a thing of the past. Replicating it in Iran is not only going to be highly problematic, it could end up by Israel paying an unacceptably heavy price for its actions. Reportedly, the military leaders of both the US and Israel have conveyed their reservations against military strikes to their respective leaders. In spite of these the pressures of a presidential election and beyond it to the overwhelming pressure from the Jewish lobbies and Israel's supporters in Washington may make it difficult for the incumbent in the White House to hold back.
Israel and the US and for that matter much of the world seem to have forgotten about the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s that continued for many years. Both sides suffered enormously, more so Iran. It would be recalled that Saddam Hussein who launched the attack had the backing of the Arab countries and the US and the West. Compared to the resources available to Iran the support in financial backing and weapons supplied by its backers gave Iraq overwhelming preponderance, especially in the early stages of the war. In spite of heavy initial reverses and scant outside support compared to its adversary Iraq, the Iranians fought back fiercely. They were able to take a heavy toll of the Iraqis. On more than one occasion they nearly turned the tide. Iraq survived because of the enormity of support from its backers. Since it immediately followed the Khomeini Revolution Iraq's initial success was largely due to the surprise achieved by the attacker and the disarray in the Iranian armed forces due to the heavy decapitation of the heads of the services considered loyal to the ousted Shah. Notwithstanding the very heavy odds the Iranians fought back tenaciously, surprising the attacker and the world by the ferocity of their resistance.
The Israeli leader, seemingly hell-bent on a military strike against Iran, should know that as opposed to the earlier occasion when they were attacked by Saddam Hussein without warning, when in an enfeebled state, the Iranians this time around have been preparing day and night for years on end for a possible Israeli-US military action against their country. It would be foolhardy in the extreme for the US or the Israelis to believe that they would get away lightly after their military strikes on Iran. In one way or other both these countries will be made to pay a heavy price. In the case of Israel that price might turn out to be unaffordable. In worst case scenarios it might even pose an existential threat to the continued viability of Israel as a strong, independent nation.
That Iran's retaliatory capability could be life-threatening for Israel should have become evident to most Israelis by now. A simple comparison between the attacker (Israel - even backed by the US) and the retaliator (Iran) would indicate Israel's acute vulnerability compared to Iran. Iran is a very large country with a population size possibly twenty times that of the Jewish population of Israel. No matter how massive the damage to Iran's nuclear capability, Iran has the geographical spread and the demographic mass to recover fully from the military action against it, whether the recovery takes a few years or much longer. In the case of Israel the geographic size and population base being miniscule compared to Iran, the latter would have devised several ways of severely penalizing Israel. Doubtless Israel too would have prepared for Iran striking back in some form or the other. No amount of anticipatory defensive measures can exclude severe retaliatory damage from Iran and its allies. Prudence would demand that Israel does not flirt with existential danger. If the Israeli leader is past restraining, it is imperative for the US and all well-wishers of Israel - and for its continued viability perched on the edge of the Arab world - to call an immediate halt to a potentially mad escapade.
The writer was based in Iran in 1973-74.