Attacking Iran is madness Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/Gulf News

A fierce debate is raging in Israel and the US over the wisdom of striking Iran's nuclear facilities. Some 41 per cent of Israelis think it's a good idea, according to a Haaretz-Dialog poll. The front pages of Israeli newspapers are ablaze with headlines suggesting an attack may be on the cards some time next year.

Most concerning of all is the news that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to persuade his cabinet to back an attack on Iran. Israeli President Shimon Peres is equally hawkish. "It would seem that Iran is getting closer to having nuclear weapons," he said. "In the time that remains, we must urge the other nations of the world to act … to fulfil their responsibility, whether that means serious sanctions or whether it means a military operation."

It's true to say that Israel has been sabre-rattling against Tehran intermittently for four years. Indeed, Israel's anti-Iran threats have become so commonplace they are beginning to sound like the boy who cried wolf. But this time, they can't be so easily dismissed.

In the first place, US President Barack Obama, who broke his promise to engage in one-to-one talks with Iranian leaders, has proved he is prepared to sacrifice his stated lofty ideals on the altar of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. And even if he doesn't get the coveted second term, any potential successor is just as likely to bless an Iran attack; perhaps even more so.

Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry said "that madman can't have nuclear weapons" referring to Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "We will support Israel in every way that we can … up to and including military action," Perry said.

Another Republican runner, former governor of Utah Jon Huntsman said he cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran. "If you want an example of when I would use American force, it would be that," he said.

There seems to be a contest to sound more anti-Iranian and more pro-Israeli.

In all honesty, there is no country with the possible exception of Syria that would celebrate Iran emerging as a nuclear-armed regional power, least of all the Gulf Cooperation Council. The question is whether or not the ‘cure' would be more devastating than the disease. There is an argument that even if Iran did have the bomb it may be no more of a threat than North Korea or Pakistan given that Tehran hasn't displayed suicidal tendencies.

Israel, however, doesn't buy that. Tel Aviv views Tehran as a threat to its very existence. In other words, some Israeli politicians would accept chopping off an arm to preserve the body.

Israel has tested Jericho 3, a new nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile with a 7,000 kilometre range. It has just completed joint exercises with the Italian Air Force and other Nato members to get a feel of Nato's operational style. The following day, sirens were heard throughout Israel signalling a ‘Home Front' drill simulating a missile attack.

Adding grist to the mill of those predicting war, the Guardian revealed that Britain is planning to use Royal Navy vessels in the event of a US attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Whether all this amounts to coordinated bluff to rein in Tehran isn't known.

The Israeli columnist and peace activist Uri Avnery clearly believes it is. He notes that the Israeli censor is "smiling benignly" on the leaks of affairs that are usually subject to strict military censorship. "Israel will not attack Iran," he writes.

I would like to believe him. The human and economic consequences of such an attack are unthinkable. Iran has powerful friends in China and Russia which both have major trade agreements with it and which are keen to see a diplomatic solution.

Even without their intervention, Tehran would close the Straits of Hormuz resulting in rocketing oil prices and would launch attacks on US military interests in the Gulf. Iran's primary target would, of course, be Israel. It's more than likely that Hezbollah and Hamas would also rain rockets on Israeli cities.

Some experts are of the opinion that Iran has already bought-in nuclear weapons, which, if true, could spell Armageddon. At the very least, regional economies would be shattered. Tourists and foreign investors would be the first to flee. The Arab street would interpret an attack on Iran as yet another western onslaught on a Muslim country with Islamist groups reaping the reward.

In any event, without foreign boots on the ground in large numbers, Iran would be even more determined to pursue a nuclear weapons option. Cash-strapped western nations trying to stave off economic collapse are not in a position to afford another lengthy occupation. Poking the bear's cage will only enrage it further.

Iran, however, is taking Israel and America's muscle-flexing seriously. Iran's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hassan Firouzaadi has warned Israel and the US that any attack will elicit a heavy price. We'll have to see if Israel's western sycophants consider it a price worth paying.

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at lheard@gulfnews.com. Some of the comments may be considered for publication.