Alec Shelbrooke is the Member of Parliament for Elmet and Rothwell. Follow Alec on Twitter.
The threat of war in Iran has been a growing concern for some time.
In recent weeks the threat of a military conflict in Iran has grown exponentially with unattributed comments from the Israeli government such as: “Israel is strong, Israel is responsible, and Israel will do what it has to do”, thus baiting Iran and raising the temperature of aggression between the two nations and increasing the chances of a military strike.
I am an unquestionable supporter of Israel. It is the only democratically elected state in the Middle East, surrounded by countries who have declared (through their dictatorial governments) the unabashed ambition to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth”. Israel deserves the support of all democratic humanitarians around the world. Although the lines can sometimes become blurred over Israel’s actions, these are almost always as the direct result of attacks on its citizens and a very real, “fight for survival”.
When President Mahmood Ahmadinejad addresses magnanimous organisations, such as the UN, with anti-Semitic tautology, it should be clear to all rational people what this holocaust-denying, war-mongering, precarious man really means when he speaks of “removing the state of Israel”. If in the same position would we Britons sit idle and chew cud if another country was proffering anti-anglo sentiment to the extent of anglo-anihilation and construction of alleged weapons of mass destruction, intent of aiming said weapons at us? No. We would be in outrage and call for defence and affirmative action. So, in fact the restraint that Israel has shown so far deserves praise and respect. But this is not about the rights and wrongs of Israel launching a pre-emptive strike to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability; it’s about the consequences that such actions will bring to the rest of the world.
The first important aspect to note is that any other operation would not be as quick, or as decisive as Operation Opera, launched by Israel on 7th June 1981 against Saddam Hussain’s nuclear programme in Iraq. This operation saw the complete destruction of Iraq’s nuclear programme in one strike using only eight aircrafts and dropping sixteen bombs at surface based installations.
The Iranians have learnt from this attack. The main Uranium enrichment facility based in Fordow is built within the mountain side with at least 260 feet of rock between it and the surface. Latest indications of Israeli weaponry make the chances of a successful attack highly unlikely. Israel has already been assessing the need for ground troops in an assault, not least to ensure that enough damage is done to put the whole facility out of action over the long term.
The use of ground troops almost ensures that any action would be a long and drawn out process. We must remember that between 1980 and 1988 Iraq, backed by the West went to war with Iran. During this war they only managed to gain 1KM in land but lost 1 million lives in the process. Although any action would analyse the lessons of this conflict, it is a salutary lesson in how difficult and potentially lengthy and life-consuming a conflict would be.
So how does this affect the rest of us? The most likely outcome should Israel launch an attack on Iran is that it lasts a long time and Iran’s nuclear ambitions are thwarted immediately. Would this allow the world to breathe easier? Perhaps yes, but this overlooks the fundamental, geographical importance that Iran has over the world’s energy supplies, namely The Straits of Hormuz.
Although we no longer purchase oil from Iran, over 35% of the world’s shipping oil supplies comes through the Straits. Iran more than likely would want to make the attack a world problem and flex their dominant arm by closing the Strait of Hormuz. This would first of all engage the United States’ Fifth Fleet, bringing the United States into the war; a war they did not start, a war they would not want to be involved with but wouldn’t have a choice. It would also certainly bring the Royal Navy in to protect British interests; our minesweeper capability is relied upon in the Gulf.
So once again our military is engaged in a conflict with the Middle East. However, fundamental to this is the immediate effect we will feel back home. Namely the oil traders inflating the oil price overnight. As oil is bought in advance, speculators will want to factor in immediately any potential reduction in supplies which would inevitably come from a naval conflict in the narrow Straits.
The consequences of an oil embargo are massive; an instant reduction in industrial output, which will make already nervous banks jumpy. This will decrease lending to businesses thus creating a knock on effect, which will be reflected in job freezes and a rise in unemployment. The price of petrol will rocket overnight leading to household budgets bursting under the strain. The price of food following this fuel inflation and the overall consequence of a much deeper recession with rocketing inflation will make the last four years look like a warm up act.
This is not merely idle posturing; we have the history of the oil crisis of 1973 to show how desperate this situation could become.
So where does this leave us? As hard as it is, Israel’s allies must continue to apply pressure not just to Iran through sanctions, but also continue the intense diplomatic work with Russia and China to bring pressure to bear on Iran to be fully open about its “Civilian Nuclear Programme”. It is not in Russia or China’s interest to see a large chunk of the trading world fall further into depression. Therefore, this remains our best hope of securing a peaceful outcome.
Israel and Iran both need to know that the West will defend its interests, to bring reassurance to democratic Israel, and threat to sabre-rattling Iran.
Foreign Affairs is a long and patient process; act in haste and repent at leisure.