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No Wonder Cameron Dreads Israel Bombing Iran

Last Updated: Friday, September 14th, 2012

I returned from Israel yesterday evening, but the most gripping story about Britain’s relationship with it came from here, not there.  The Daily Mail reported earlier this week that Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, flew recently to the country to warn Benjamin Netanyahu, its Prime Minister, not to take military action against Iran.  The Mail doesn’t usually burrow into security stories, so its source is likely to have been political rather than military.

The content of the story bears this out: “David Cameron is understood to have become increasingly concerned at the rhetoric from the authorities in Israel, who have been threatening unilateral military action to halt Iran’s nuclear drive”, part of it ran.  Like Barak Obama, the Prime Minister wants to give sanctions more time to work: the former has had an extraordinary public row with Netanyahu this week over precisely that matter: timing.

Netanyahu’s view is that the main question for him over Iran’s nuclear programme isn’t whether his Government tries to stop or delay it by bombing key facilities but when.  True, he has been saying this for years, and an attack has not yet taken place.  Furthermore, Israel is divided over timing.  Nearly all of the country’s political and military establishment support military action in principle, but former heads of Mossad and Shin Bet have warned against an attack now.

Even Ehud Barak, the Government’s tough Defence Minister (and Netanyahu’s former superior officer when they both served in Israel’s special forces), has been voicing reservations this week, though his intervention had more to do with Israel’s convoluted internal politics than with policy – as, arguably, did those of the securocrats.  So it is possible that Netanyahu might not be able to carry his Cabinet over a strike soon.

It is also possible, of course, that he is playing a familiar game: namely, seeking to alarm America that Iran will soon reach the point where it could swiftly construct nuclear weapons, and thus persuade Obama – or a President Romney – that the world’s biggest military power must now prevent a regional arms race by halting Iran’s programme by force (which America probably has the capacity to do but Israel probably doesn’t, since its military capabilities are less effective).

Were it not for the Mail story I might have dismissed some of the bloodcurdling talk that I heard in Israel this week as a small part of its Government’s effort to persuade British political journalists to take the same view.   But I was told separately before leaving Britain that our own National Security Council is making preparations for the consequences of Israel taking military action, so I think it is reasonable to prepare for the worst, and soon.

The worst, at least, from Mr Cameron’s point of view.  Rumours of plots that aim to replace him with Boris Johnson continued to rumble while I was listening to senior military figures in Israel opine on Iran.  One told me that an attack was likely after America’s Presidential election in November, which made me wonder if it is more likely before, since neither Obama nor Romney would want to risk losing pro-Israel voters by denouncing a military strike.

Within a few weeks, therefore, the Prime Minister could see his party riven by differences between supporters and opponents of such a strike among Conservative MPs.  Netanyahu’s real aim, it will be claimed in these circumstances, is to topple Iran’s Government; break America’s diplomatic partnership with Russia and China, and create a “coalition of the willing” to revive the causes of regime change and neo-conservatism.

But it is not only some Tory MPs who would call for sanctions on Israel in these circumstances.  Liberal Democrat MPs would look back to the support their party gained by opposing the Iraq War – and, extraordinarily, Mr Cameron has somehow allowed the removal of Liberal Democrat Ministers from both the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence during the recent reshuffle.  They won’t be there in key departments to share responsibility for the Government’s response if bombing happens.

It could be claimed that Nick Clegg sits on the National Security Council, so the Prime Minister has no need to worry.  I think this view under-estimates the difficulties – especially if Ed Miliband, driven by Labour’s big anti-Israel lobby or an eye to the main chance or both, decides to back sanctions.  Miliband will be sensitive to the unfair claim that his Jewish background leaves him “soft on Israel’.  Be in no doubt: an Israeli strike on Iran would convulse the Government – and the Conservative Party.

By Paul Goodman

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Lord Ashcroft: After the reshuffle soap opera it’s time to focus on voters again.
“I cannot help but find one or two of the decisions mystifying – the removal of Nick Gibb, for example, who has a concrete achievement to his name (and how many Ministers can say that?) in improving the way primary school children are taught to read, makes you wonder whether delivery was the driving factor in all decisions. Those who think reshuffles are mainly a tool for “party management” would do well to remember that it is delivery that wins and loses elections. It is losing parties that are unmanageable, just as winning parties are disciplined, not the other way round.” Read more: http://is.gd/UwwqaE

Matthew Barrett: Are we entering a new age of MPs leaving Parliament to take up other roles?
“In the post-1979 era, MPs seem a lot less likely to resign to take up another position.  This is also reflective of the relatively recent trend of career politicians, who are unwilling to leave Parliament. You might perceive the change to be as a result of our political class being a little less careerist and more willing to take up executive positions outside Parliament. Alternatively, you might think it shows that Parliament is less worthwhile or prestigious. Either way, we can expect a rise in the number of MPs looking for alternative employment – voluntarily.” Read more: http://is.gd/PVayGh

Paul Goodman: Stormed at with shot and shell, Nick Boles rides into Planning’s Valley of Death
“Even if the political problems of easing up green belt constraints are for a moment to be discounted, Mr Cameron can’t simply get developers to build swiftly by an act of will.  Mr Boles could reasonably tell him that while he has a plan to provide the right long-term planning framework for the country, he has none to deliver short-term house building to an electoral timetable – because it can’t be done.  But since dragoons are loyal troopers, the Planning Minister will doubtless adapt the words of that dogged cavalryman at Balaclava: “Never mind, my Lord: I am ready to go again”. Read more: http://is.gd/PLwIFu

Bruce Anderson: London needs more airport capacity — but we can ignore Boris’s madcap, self-serving proposals.     “Boris is a strange character, far more complicated and far less likeable that the superficial impression would suggest. He is also a curious mixture of insecurity and ambition. Not wholly lacking in self-knowledge, uneasily aware that he has a large stake in shallowness and amorality, he keeps on expecting to be found out….Boris is much the most solipsistic person I have ever met. Stand back from the bumbling and burbling and pretence of affability and you will realise that this is a man who is wholly uninterested in other human beings except as a means to his gratification or advancement. This is a charismatic narcissist.” Read more: http://is.gd/r8uIeo 

Nadine Dorries: It’s time to defend the green belt.    There are other options. Take Milton Keynes for example. A new town which began life in 1967. A town with aspirations to become a city and which has never stopped growing. There are areas within Milton Keynes which are now desperate for re-build and re-generation. Let’s look at the number of empty homes across the UK. According to the statistics for 2011, there are 720,000 empty homes. Let’s reclaim those first before we upset Conservative voters, councillors, MPs, association members, action groups and major organisations such as the National Trust. It really isn’t clever to upset people and call them ‘latter day luddites’, just because they want to hold onto what little is left of our green and pleasant land.” Read more: http://is.gd/Xhmxi4

Tim Montgomerie: Tory members give their verdict on the reshuffle.    “67% / 10% Grant Shapps will be a good Conservative Party Chairman. 46% / 42% It was right for George Osborne to remain as Chancellor.  60% / 17%  This was a clever reshuffle which has put effective MPs, like Greg Clark, Michael Fallon and Liz Truss into departments where more economic activity is needed. 53% / 28%  By putting David Laws into the Department of Education, Nick Clegg is trying to control Michael Gove. 82% / 9%  Chris Grayling will be closer to public opinion on prisons and human rights policy than Ken Clarke. 63% / 28%  It was an inappropriate use of the honours system for David Cameron to give knighthoods to some of the ministers he sacked.” Read more: http://is.gd/DaXgce

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