The West is becoming increasingly worried about Iran’s nuclear program and the repercussions it could have for the Middle East. The Iranian enrichment of uranium has long thought to be part of the development of a nuclear weapon, rather than for peaceful purposes (the official line maintained by the Iranian government).
2011 saw tensions escalate between the West and Iran with the attack on the British Embassy in Tehran (which some believe was government backed) followed swiftly by the expulsion of Iranian diplomats from the UK. This stretched Anglo-Iranian tensions substantially.
News this week hinted that Israel might be considering attacking Iran early this year. The Jewish state has long been critical of Iran’s nuclear research and outspoken about their fears that Iran is approaching nuclear weapons capability. Israel does not admit, but is widely suspected, to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons. If Israel invades Iran, the entire Middle East could erupt as countries are forced to take sides.
But what does this mean for the West? In recent days US President Barack Obama has confirmed America’s ties with Israel by saying that:
Our preferred solution here is diplomatic, we’re going to keep on pushing on that front, but we’re not going to take any options off the table… We’re going to do everything we can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
This thinly veiled threat of military intervention comes across as somewhat hypocritical; but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The US has a history of ties with Israel and public opinion (source Gallup) shows that a large majority of American adults (67%) sympathise more with Israel than with Palestine. To abandon Israel in what could be their moment of need would be a very unpopular move for Obama, especially with elections looming. According to a recent poll (source ABC News/Washington Post) Obama leads Mitt Romney 51%-45%; not a huge majority. So will public opinion force President Obama to lead America into yet another war in the Middle East?
And what of the UK? If America are pulled into a conflict, it is very possible that Britain could follow in her footsteps. The UK and the US have collaborated on Iran in an offensive capacity before, with the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddeq; the democratically elected President of Iran (1951-3) by a joint CIA/MI5 operation. Yet another skeleton in the Anglo-American closet.
The repercussions of a war with Iran should be considered. Iran shares a border with Afghanistan, and it is possible that, in the event of an outbreak of war, conflict could spill over the border.
Iran are not blameless, however. Their continued nuclear research, and the semi-secretive way in which they are conducting it, has not helped matters. Neither has their threat to close the gulf (and thereby halt a large amount of oil traffic) after sanctions were placed upon them. The passage through the gulf is currently ensured by a US naval presence, thus risking a naval conflict should Iran attempt a closure of the trade route. This is not to mention the US drone that Iran brought down last year, adamant that it entered Iranian airspace.
It would appear that the matter rests largely in Israel’s hands. If the Jewish state attacks Iran, the escalation could be swift and substantial.