Now is the time to at­tack Iran

War with the most lethal threat to the free world is in­evitable. To save lives, the West must strike first


EV­ERY­ONE IS wait­ing. In Is­rael, they are wait­ing for the 60th-an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions to be over and for Pres­i­dent Bush to have vis­ited and re­turned home. Then, they say, the IDF will make its long-an­tic­i­pated ma­jor in­cur­sion into Gaza. Then at last the prob­lem of the ever-in­ten­si­fy­ing at­tacks by Ha­mas will be dealt with.

Across the world, ev­ery­one is wait­ing for the in­ter­minable US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to be over. Then, many be­lieve, the paral­y­sis over Iran will end. Then, they think, the prospect of a mil­i­tary strike on Tehran will ei­ther swiftly be re­alised or per­ma­nently be laid to rest (de­pend­ing on who ac­tu­ally wins).

And mean­while the hal­lu­ci­na­tory Mid­dle East ap­pease­ment process me­an­ders ever on­wards, ac­com­pa­nied by dark rum­blings about a se­cret back­stairs sell-out Is­rael deal be­ing cooked up be­tween Ehud Olmert and Mah­moud Ab­bas and en­livened by the Is­rael-pho­bic Jimmy Carter, fresh from pay­ing homage at the tomb of Yasser Arafat, an­nounc­ing the prospect of peace in our time with Ha­mas.

But wait­ing comes with a heavy price tag. It pro­vides al­i­bis for putting off what needs to be done quickly; it re­sults in the slaugh­ter of yet more in­no­cents; and it gives the ad­van­tage to the player for whom time is cru­cial. That player is Iran.

The rea­son Is­rael hasn’t done what it needs to do in Gaza is not be­cause of an­niver­saries or of­fi­cial vis­its. It is be­cause of Gi­lad Shalit, the IDF sol­dier who is now in his twenty-sec­ond month of cap­tiv­ity by Ha­mas.

Is­rael will not in­vade Gaza be­cause of fears that Shalit will then be killed. Shalit is be­ing used by Ha­mas as a hostage to pre­vent Is­rael from wiping it out. The re­sult is that other Is­raelis are be­ing re­lent­lessly at­tacked and mur­dered. And the pup­peteer pulling Ha­mas’s strings is Iran.

The West tends to put the var­i­ous Mid­dle East con­flicts into boxes marked “Is­rael-Pales­tinian dis­pute”, “Iraq”, “Le­banon”, “Ha­mas”, “al Qaida” and “Ira­nian nu­clear threat”. The fact is, how­ever, that all roads lead to Iran.

Iran is sim­ply the cen­tre of strate­gic grav­ity in the re­gion and in the war against the free world. It has en­cir­cled Is­rael through Ha­mas in Gaza and through Hizbol­lah in Le­banon, where it has also all but snuffed out the Le­banese democ­racy.

In Iraq, Iran is the cen­tral player. The Pe­traeus surge may have been suc­cess­ful. And the Iraqis re­cently sur­prised many by de­cid­ing to fight the Ira­nian-backed sup­port­ers of Mo­q­tada al Sadr in Basra, caus­ing Iran to beat a strate­gic re­treat. But the fact is that, in Iraq, Iran has sub­orned gov­ern­ment, in­sur­gent and re­li­gious lead­ers.

As for al Qaida, the idea that Shi’ite Iran would never ally with Sunni ter­ror­ists is a lethal il­lu­sion. Iran has had work­ing ar­range­ments with al Qaida for years, as it has with other Sunni ter­ror groups in their com­mon cause against the West.

And al­though the West may not re­alise it, Iran has spread there too. In Bri­tain and Europe, it has a sleep­ing army com­posed of Hizbol­lah cells and Ira­nian intelligence which uses west­ern Ira­nian em­bassies as ex­plo­sives stores. If Iran is at­tacked, Tehran will re­spond by un­leash­ing Ira­nian ter­ror in the West.

The pre­req­ui­site for sta­bil­is­ing all th­ese hotspots — in­clud­ing “Is­rael/ Pales­tine” — and deal­ing with global Is­lamic ter­ror is regime change in Tehran. The ques­tion is how.

Far, far more should al­ready have been done. There should have been ear­lier and fiercer eco­nomic sanc­tions along with diplo­matic es­trange­ment. It is ex­tra­or­di­nary that Bri­tain still has diplo­matic re­la­tions with Iran while (along with the US) it pro­scribes the PMOI, the prin­ci­pal op­po­si­tion move­ment which is com­mit­ted to hu­man rights, as a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion. The fact is that Iran de­clared war on the West in 1979 as soon as Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini came to power — the last great con­tri­bu­tion made by Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter to world peace. Ever since, Ira­nian mili­tias have been at­tack­ing West­ern in­ter­ests; ever since, the West has re­fused to ac­knowl­edge this.

Peo­ple say war against Iran would turn a largely pro-west­ern peo­ple against the West. But war need not mean car­pet-bomb­ing Tehran. It can and should mean tar­geted strikes on the regime and its prin­ci­pal in­ter­ests.

War should al­ways be a last re­sort. But, as in the 1930s, the West once again has failed to take the ap­pro­pri­ate in­ter­me­di­ate steps. Such a fail­ure of nerve makes war more likely, not less.

As a re­sult, the choice is not be­tween war and peace. War with Iran is al­most cer­tainly in­evitable. The choice is be­tween war on our terms or on those laid down by Iran. The longer we wait, the more that choice is loaded against the de­feat of this most lethal of all threats to the free world.

Me­lanie Phillips is a Daily Mail colum­nist

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