Sunday, January 08, 2006

It's Chicken Little time

One of the easiest things a commentator can do is rush around like Chicken Little, warning that the sky is going to fall in. In many ways, it is a good option. If the sky doesn't fall in, no one will remember your warnings but, if events turn out as you predicted, your reputation is made forever.

Thus it is with the Middle East, which is always in turmoil, where the inherent instability of the region always threatens to erupt into a higher level of insanity and killing. Therefore, anyone making predictions of more bloodshed is on a pretty safe bet.

That said, there have been a steady stream of warnings on the growing nuclear threat from Iran, and avowed determination of president Ahmadinejad, Iran's new, hard-line leader, to make and deploy nuclear missiles against Israel.

This is a topic we have not visited since the end of October when Ahmadinejad gave a speech in which he called for Israel to be wiped off the map, but we have watched developments uneasily, wondering and waiting, as the situation deteriorates.

Now, today, The Business, in taking up the theme of a nuclear-armed Iran and the political uncertainty in Israel, caused by the departure of Sharon, has decided it's Chicken Little time, with a long, robust leader under the unequivocal headline: "The crisis facing the Middle East".

We find it very hard to disagree with the sentiment expressed in that headline, and the general thrust of the leader, and applaud the style, especially the opening, which begins thus:

Even at the best of times, the abrupt removal of an Israeli prime minister would be destabilising for the country and the Middle East. But Ariel Sharon’s stroke, which prematurely ended his political career on Wednesday, comes as the Middle East faces its greatest test for three decades. The region is staring catastrophe in the face, though Great Britain's increasingly parochial media and political establishment, gripped by the unsurprising admission that the B-division politician who until Saturday led Britain’s third party has a serious "drink problem", has failed to grasp the gravity of the situation. But if London's attentions are elsewhere, it cannot be said that the other major world capitals have shown themselves up to the challenge either.
This is exactly the point we were trying to make in our brief – some might say terse – piece we posted about Kennedy on Friday, expressing our view that the coverage of a "B-division politician who until Saturday led Britain's third party" was somewhat overblown, and that the more important issue was Sharon.

The only point on which we would take issue with the narrative is where The Business expresses what we feel is undue pessimism about the ability of the United States or Israel to succeed in a military strike against Iran. Rightly, the paper observes that this is not a situation like taking out Saddam’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, as the Iranians have spread their installations across the country. But it is perhaps neglecting the fact that the highly sophisticated electronic surveillance systems deployed by the Americans will probably be able to detect any missiles in their pre-launch phase, in sufficient time to launch pre-emptive strikes.

For sure, as The Business does observe, any such action would "trigger a massive explosion of rage in the Middle East, with unpredictable consequences", but the capability to avert nuclear Armageddon in Israel is probably better than most people realise.

Thus, while the paper offers as its specific thesis that, "not only have the Great Powers failed to do anything to contain Iran, they have no strategy to cope with a nuclear Iran – and cannot even start to think how to deal with a further proliferation across the Middle East and the horrifying possibility of nuclear terrorists," that might be too pessimistic. But that apart, we are certainly on the brink of a crisis and, as so often, if it erupts, it is unlikely to be contained within the region.

We would, therefore, enjoin you to read the leader (link above), which is long and detailed as befits a grown-up newspaper in a land where the general media, in its descent into infantilism, remains obsessed with their "B-division" politician. It looks like Chicken Little could be right this time.


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