Belfast Telegraph

War on Iran has already begun ... and it is madness

By Paul Vallely

One of the more embarrassing features of the internet is that, from time to time, I find myself being confused with a namesake.

Paul E Vallely is not me. He is a retired US major-general who is now the senior military analyst for Rupert Murdoch's outrageously Right-wing Fox News. Among other things, he wants to bomb Iran, which I decidedly do not.

There is something deeply disquieting about the deterioration in relationships between the West and Iran. William Hague was well within existing protocol to expel all Iran's diplomats from Britain after a mob sacked the British embassy in Tehran. But what is proper is not always wise.

Paranoia has long characterised Anglo-Iranian relations. An old Persian proverb warns: "If you trip over a stone in the road, it was put there by an Englishman."

So Britain, taking the lead in international opinion against Tehran's nuclear weapons programme, is perceived in Iran in the context of a long history of British perfidy.

Of course, some political leaders in Tehran want the bomb. It is not hard to understand why. Everyone else in the region has one - Israel, Pakistan, India and Russia. US nuclear weapons have Tehran within range.

But Iran is a big, politically sophisticated country whose constitution of parliament, president, councils and assemblies of religious experts, creates a system of checks and balances in which change is possible.

The Iranian establishment is fragmented into factions; a third of MPs did not vote for the measure to reduce the diplomatic status of Iran's relations with Britain, for example. But it is precisely the wrong reactionary factions which are strengthened by the bellicosity of the West.

And make no mistake: the war has already begun. Virulent computer viruses disabled Iran's nuclear centrifuges last year. Two of the nation's leading nuclear physicists have been assassinated and a third was wounded by assassins on motorbikes.

The UK's decision to freeze $1.6bn of Iranian assets - which is what provoked the violence at the British embassy - was the fourth round of sanctions.

Hawks like my military namesake talk openly of deploying unmanned drones against nuclear power stations and provoking an uprising against the government in Tehran.

And now comes all the EU sound and fury about not bowing "to Iran's intimidation and bullying". The hollow laughter from Tehran reflects heightened nationalist resolution and increased hostility to the West.

What is needed is the opposite. Instead of feeding a siege mentality in Tehran, we should find ways of keeping open the engagement through trade and cultural exchange - just as Washington does with Pakistan.

There is another consideration. Iran is the world's second-largest producer of oil and gas. Last week, the EU reached agreement in principle to impose an oil embargo on Iran. But it delayed any detailed decision to mid-January in order to allow countries, including Italy, Spain and Greece, which import large amounts of Iranian oil, the time to find alternative supplies.

But what if Iran turned the tables and cut off oil to Europe, concentrating on its massive sales to India and China? That could create another oil shock like those of the 1970s, which deflated the global economy, triggered a stock market crash, caused inflation to soar and led to a wave of unemployment that toppled governments.

Or Tehran might announce a selective oil embargo against Britain, France and Germany - leaving its biggest clients in southern Europe untouched.

This rush to madness could backfire terribly in so many ways. If we had as long an historical memory as the Iranians, we would know that.

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