In judgements that cut across a growing international consensus, experts at London’s leading defence think-tank said yesterday that, in their view, there would be no Israeli – or US – attack on Iran before the end of the year.
They also dashed hopes of an early departure of the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, saying that, despite the uprising in Homs, he still controlled 70 per cent of the country and rebel forces lacked the capacity to depose him.
John Chipman, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, was answering questions after the institute’s presentation of its annual flagship assessment of global military capabilities, “The Military Balance”. In describing the prospect of an early military attack on Iran as “unlikely”, Dr Chipman appeared to contradict a recent statement from the US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, but also a warning just the previous day from the Prime Minister to MPs to the effect that Iran wanted to build an intercontinental nuclear missile that could pose a direct threat to London. Mr Cameron was speaking after a briefing from the Government’s national security adviser, Sir Kim Darroch.
Dr Chipman based his less alarmist view on a deal he said had been done between President Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, according to which Israel would agree not to attack Iran, so long as the US gave an assurance that it would not exclude military action to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapon. Mr Netanyahu “got that assurance,” Mr Chipman said, during his recent visit to Washington.
Senior Israelis have argued that Iran has to be stopped in the next six months, before it has managed to bury its stockpiles so far underground that Israel, operating alone, would be unable to destroy them. The US, with its far more powerful capability, can afford to wait much longer before resorting to the military option.
Mr Obama maintains that diplomatic efforts have not yet been exhausted. A unilateral Israeli strike on Iran, whether or not it was assisted or underwritten by the US, could also complicate Mr Obama’s re-election campaign.
On Syria, the institute’s Middle East expert, Toby Dodge, said there was “no way” that the poorly-armed rebel forces posed a threat to the regime, unless a situation was reached where the international community was “forced to respond” – which he judged highly unlikely. Even the weapons the Free Syrian Army was receiving, he said, did little to bridge the capability gap, because the rebels started from such a low level.