Target Iran, by Scott Ritter

In this high-stakes game of nuclear poker, it's Israel holding all the cards
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The Independent Culture

A few weeks ago, the hands of the famous Doomsday Clock moved two minutes closer to midnight, symbolising the growing prospect of nuclear annihilation. We live in dangerous times, and the judgements of political leaders often make matters worse.

The former Marine and UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter achieved a degree of fame before the war in Iraq by announcing that Saddam possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He was treated as an unhelpful pest while US and British forces got on with the illegal if exciting business of toppling the regime.

Now the drums of war are beating again, this time about Iran and its alleged determination to acquire nuclear weapons. Ritter's Target Iran is an attempt to shake us out of our complacency as, once again, our leaders seem to be sleepwalking towards conflict.

This is a valuable book because, away from the alarmist headlines, there is a lot to understand about Iran's determination to master nuclear technology. Israel's well-grounded fears of losing its nuclear advantage over hostile neighbours must also be understood, as well as its determination to ensure that Iran's nuclear enrichment is stillborn, with or without the help of the US and its allies.

What Ritter does brilliantly is explain how Israeli spies flushed Iran's secretive nuclear programme into the open. They helped the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to launch inspections that forced Iran to admit what it was up to. And that is precisely where the problems begin, because Iran is perfectly entitled to enrich uranium, provided it is for peaceful uses and under safeguards.

Israel, which has long seen Iran as its greatest strategic threat, is not prepared to give the mullahs the benefit of the doubt. It has been informing all who care to listen that someone is going to have to dismantle Iran's nuclear capability, whether peacefully as the result of sanctions or with the help of bombs.

Israeli determination was seen 20 years ago in the bombing of Saddam's nuclear reactor at Osirak, an act that did not stop his ambitions, but probably spurred him on. Now we are engaged in a game of nuclear poker with Iran, hoping that sanctions will persuade the mullahs to back down. Tony Blair's argument that there are "no plans" for war against Iran sound as hollow as the statements of a few years ago that Saddam could avoid war by co-operating with the UN.