Adrian Hamilton: The more we talk of war with Iran, the more likely it becomes

The frightening thing is that so many discuss war as if it was perfectly rational

Related Topics

All winter long the drums of war have been beating. At first it was reports, taken seriously by even hardened observers of the Middle East scene, that Israel was planning to use the Christmas holiday period to launch an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Then Iran in its turn ratcheted up the tensions as the New Year approached with a threat to close the Straits of Hormuz to oil shipping in the event of further sanctions from the US and Europe.

Neither event has so far happened and current wisdom would still suggest that they won't. The consequences would be almost too terrible to contemplate. Which is why, for the moment at least, you hear senior naval and other figures in Iran declaring that the country does not intend to close the Straits and why senior figures from Israel's security forces have openly talked of restraining the government of Benjamin Netanyahu from sending the bombers to Iran.

But these voices are very much in the minority. The really frightening thing about the situation is not so much the military preparations but that so many are ready to discuss war as if it was a perfectly rational, and indeed likely, possibility.

The pressures for war are there and growing. The right-wing governing coalition in Israel is publicly in favour of it. The military are advising that now is the time, before Iran progresses any further with its nuclear enrichment facilities. At the same time, the US administration of President Obama – which had been acting as a restraint on Israel – now appears weaker and weaker against the voices demanding confrontation with Iran.

When the so-called centrist contender for the Republican leadership, Mitt Romney, can say, as he did this week, that, "the greatest threat that Israel faces, and frankly the greatest threat the world faces, is a nuclear Iran", you know that the election is not going to allow the President to adopt a statesmanlike position where Israel is concerned.

Indeed Obama is not, signing into law as one of his last acts in 2011, a clause added on to the 2012 Defence Authorisation Bill, stopping any company working in the US from dealing with the Iranian Central Bank.

Sanctions, once considered a non-violent alternative to military action, have now become an act of aggression in themselves, targeting, for the first time, Iranian civilian society and ordinary trade instead of being limited to the activities of particular groups and individuals in Iran. And the EU, which meets later this month to consider further sanctions on the country, is set to follow with a ban on all purchases of Iranian oil.

Little wonder that Iran, the subject of intensifying factional struggles itself, a collapsing currency and severe economic difficulties, has responded by issuing threats and holding military exercises to show what it could do in response.

This is a madness in which every principle of diplomacy and every knowledge of consequences is simply being cast aside in pursuit of what? A nuclear Iran does not offer the existential threat to Israel to justify war (as the Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, said only last week). There is no overriding economic or strategic interest for the US or Europe to go down this vicious cycle of sanction, counter-threat and tighter pressure until something – probably peace – breaks.

If one had one single wish for 2012 it would be that sanity returns, that the EU calls a halt to ever-tighter sanctions, that President Obama has the courage to say what he clearly feels – that military action is off the table – and that Iran and the international community return to the table. It may be a vain hope but you don't have to look very far into the recent past to know what will happen if we don't stop the train now.

Hungary's new law is more than just a matter of politics

Monday's protests in Budapest over the new constitution, which came into law on 1 January, have at last concentrated minds on just what the government of Viktor Orban is up to in establishing a new legal framework for the post-post-communist era. Most attention has been directed towards the new rules reducing the independence of the central bank and the courts and limiting press freedom. But just as serious – in human terms even more so – are the very deliberate and oppressive moves to enshrine discrimination against gays, stop abortion, and limit religious groups, including Muslims and Buddhists, who have been making headway among the marginalised gypsies.

This is more than a question of political control, although some of the rules are clearly aimed at that. It is social conformism of the most conservative and oppressive sort. As the preamble to the law puts it, the new constitution is designed to defend the "intellectual and spiritual unity of the nation". We all know where that language comes from and where it leads.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas