Halt the Mideast sabre-rattling over Iranian and Syrian arsenals

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2012, 1:09am


US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are not on the same page politically, but when it comes to Syria's chemical weapons and Iran's nuclear programme, they are reading from the same book. Both have expressed concern about perceived threats, to the point of suggesting launching air strikes, should the need arise. With Israeli leaders increasing the pitch of their rhetoric, and Obama struggling to maintain his slim lead in opinion polls as the campaigning for November's presidential election heats up, there is a growing risk of circumstances getting out of hand. The sabre-rattling has to end; another conflict in the Middle East is not what the world needs or wants.

Israel has a right to feel threatened by the anti-Semitic ranting of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The possibility of civil-war-wracked Syria's chemical weapons falling into the hands of extremists opposed to Israel cannot be ruled out. The US, as a staunch ally, would feel compelled to help should the Israeli military be overwhelmed. Bluster and fear are not justification for war, though.

Iran is enriching uranium, but there is no evidence that it is building nuclear weapons. Even if it had a bomb, using it would be suicidal given the firepower it would face. Strikes on Iranian facilities would have global ramifications in light of Iran's proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 per cent of the world's crude oil passes, and its being the spiritual home of Shiite Muslims, who comprise 36.3 per cent of the Middle East's people and sizeable numbers in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Weapons of mass destruction were the reason the US went to war against Iraq in 2003 without international approval. A dictatorial regime was overthrown, but the cost in lives was horrendous and deep sectarian divisions were unleashed. To do the same against Iran's mullahs and Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad risks a repeat and worse. Whatever the perceived threats, there can be no substitute for sturdy defences, intelligence and diplomacy.