War with the most lethal threat to the free world is inevitable. To save lives, the West must strike first
Everyone is waiting. In Israel, they are waiting for the 60th-anniversary celebrations to be over and for President Bush to have visited and returned home. Then, they say, the IDF will make its long-anticipated major incursion into Gaza. Then at last the problem of the ever-intensifying attacks by Hamas will be dealt with.
Across the world, everyone is waiting for the interminable US presidential election to be over. Then, many believe, the paralysis over Iran will end. Then, they think, the prospect of a military strike on Tehran will either swiftly be realised or permanently be laid to rest (depending on who actually wins).
And meanwhile the hallucinatory Middle East appeasement process meanders ever onwards, accompanied by dark rumblings about a secret backstairs sell-out Israel deal being cooked up between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas and enlivened by the Israel-phobic Jimmy Carter, fresh from paying homage at the tomb of Yasser Arafat, announcing the prospect of peace in our time with Hamas.
But waiting comes with a heavy price tag. It provides alibis for putting off what needs to be done quickly; it results in the slaughter of yet more innocents; and it gives the advantage to the player for whom time is crucial. That player is Iran.
The reason Israel hasn’t done what it needs to do in Gaza is not because of anniversaries or official visits. It is because of Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier who is now in his twenty-second month of captivity by Hamas.
Israel will not invade Gaza because of fears that Shalit will then be killed. Shalit is being used by Hamas as a hostage to prevent Israel from wiping it out. The result is that other Israelis are being relentlessly attacked and murdered. And the puppeteer pulling Hamas’s strings is Iran.
The West tends to put the various Middle East conflicts into boxes marked “Israel-Palestinian dispute”, “Iraq”, “Lebanon”, “Hamas”, “al Qaida” and “Iranian nuclear threat”. The fact is, however, that all roads lead to Iran.
Iran is simply the centre of strategic gravity in the region and in the war against the free world. It has encircled Israel through Hamas in Gaza and through Hizbollah in Lebanon, where it has also all but snuffed out the Lebanese democracy.
In Iraq, Iran is the central player. The Petraeus surge may have been successful. And the Iraqis recently surprised many by deciding to fight the Iranian-backed supporters of Moqtada al Sadr in Basra, causing Iran to beat a strategic retreat. But the fact is that, in Iraq, Iran has suborned government, insurgent and religious leaders.
As for al Qaida, the idea that Shi’ite Iran would never ally with Sunni terrorists is a lethal illusion. Iran has had working arrangements with al Qaida for years, as it has with other Sunni terror groups in their common cause against the West.
And although the West may not realise it, Iran has spread there too. In Britain and Europe, it has a sleeping army composed of Hizbollah cells and Iranian intelligence which uses western Iranian embassies as explosives stores. If Iran is attacked, Tehran will respond by unleashing Iranian terror in the West.
The prerequisite for stabilising all these hotspots — including “Israel/Palestine” — and dealing with global Islamic terror is regime change in Tehran. The question is how.
Far, far more should already have been done. There should have been earlier and fiercer economic sanctions along with diplomatic estrangement. It is extraordinary that Britain still has diplomatic relations with Iran while (along with the US) it proscribes the PMOI, the principal opposition movement which is committed to human rights, as a terrorist organisation. The fact is that Iran declared war on the West in 1979 as soon as Ayatollah Khomeini came to power — the last great contribution made by President Jimmy Carter to world peace. Ever since, Iranian militias have been attacking Western interests; ever since, the West has refused to acknowledge this.
People say war against Iran would turn a largely pro-western people against the West. But war need not mean carpet-bombing Tehran. It can and should mean targeted strikes on the regime and its principal interests.
War should always be a last resort. But, as in the 1930s, the West once again has failed to take the appropriate intermediate steps. Such a failure of nerve makes war more likely, not less.
As a result, the choice is not between war and peace. War with Iran is almost certainly inevitable. The choice is between war on our terms or on those laid down by Iran. The longer we wait, the more that choice is loaded against the defeat of this most lethal of all threats to the free world.
Melanie Phillips is a Daily Mail columnist