Kim Sengupta: The West knows air strikes will only stir up hornet's nest


Neither the European Union nor the United States appear to want the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear programme to escalate to a point where air strikes become inevitable. The constant refrain from officials, privately, in London, Paris and Washington is that they are "one hundred per cent behind a diplomatic rather than a military solution".

The scenario, however, is unfolding against a constant drumbeat of war in the background, with hawks in Israel clamouring for capabilities to produce the bomb destroyed before Tehran is in a position to start weaponising.

The view in western Europe and the US, however, is that air strikes will create massive problems in a region facing the upheavals of the Arab Spring and an increasingly violent schism between Shia and Sunnis. Coming under attack from a foreign power, be it Israel or America, may also, it is feared, lead to a grave situation within Iran. Despite perception to the contrary, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime is not the worst option for the West in Iranian terms – there are other more extreme factions waiting in the wings.

It is thus seen as imperative that the punitive measures being taken by the EU and US drive Iran to opening up the most secretive of its facilities, such as the one near Qom, to inspection from the International Atomic Energy Agency; and this will have to take place relatively quickly. Many observers believe that if the Netanyahu government was indeed set on bombing Iran it will do so in the US election year, with Barack Obama having no choice but to back a military operation.

The EU and US sanctions will not work if they are not backed by Russia, China and major oil clients of Iran such as India and Japan. Despite irritation about some of the moves being made by the West in Moscow and Beijing, there is common purpose in persuading Tehran to give up its quest for the Bomb. There is also consensus that a military onslaught on the country is the least welcome scenario.