Magazine article The Spectator

Netanyahu: Bush Will Not Allow Iran to Go Nuclear

Magazine article The Spectator

Netanyahu: Bush Will Not Allow Iran to Go Nuclear

Article excerpt

It was not my idea of a joke, but I reluctantly complied with the Israeli detective's request that I hand over all my belongings to him 'as hostages', including my mobile phone and passport. He congratulated himself repeatedly on his sense of humour, before ushering me on to the back seat of the heavily armoured Jaguar, where I squeezed in as best as I could between Benjamin Netanyahu and one of his bodyguards.

As our mini-motorcade began its journey across London, with the Hebrew-speaking security personnel eyeing every passing car, it soon became obvious that these are curious times for Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister. He may be leader of the opposition but he has steadfastly supported his bitter rival Prime Minister Ehud Olmert throughout the conflict in Lebanon, while also feeling that the hawkish views that cost his Likud party the March election have now been vindicated by the thousands of Hezbollah rockets that have landed on Israel over the past month.

To Netanyahu, the rise of Iran's extremist regime is the defining geopolitical event of our times; the whole world, not just Israel, is in its sights. Dealing with Tehran is therefore the West's greatest challenge; he is scathing about many Europeans' refusal to recognise the Iranian regime's imperialistic and murderous ambitions. But to my great surprise he is absolutely convinced that America will soon step in, one way or the other, to prevent Tehran from going nuclear, and that this will happen at some point during the remaining two years and three months of the Bush presidency.

'When President Bush said that he will not let Iran develop nuclear weapons, I take him at his word, ' he said, quietly. 'How he plans to do it of course is up to him. The fact is that the President of the US said that he -- he -- would not let Iran develop nuclear weapons. That places first a clear goal. It doesn't define the means, and as you know there is a United Nations resolution, but it does define a time-limit for the achievement of that goal. The timeframe is a logical inference. I take him at his word. Why doubt it?' Last month's UN Security Council resolution giving Iran until the end of this month to suspend uranium enrichment or face the threat of international sanctions is only a start. 'These are obviously milestones. It is important that they are laid down but we have to keep our mind on the main issue, which is that time is running out. Our intelligence chiefs have said that within three years an unimpeded Iran will be able to produce a bomb.' I pressed Netanyahu further, asking him whether he thought it would be feasible for the US to take out Iran's nuclear capabilities by force, given that their nuclear research programme is spread across Iran and buried in bunkers deep underground.

But Netanyahu simply shrugged. 'Just listen to Bush. He obviously thinks he has some combination of means: diplomatic, military, whatever.'

Rarely are politicians so unequivocal.

Although Netanyahu claims to be relying purely on public statements from the White House, his view will be taken extremely seriously across the world. For it suggests that the Bush presidency will end either on a diplomatic breakthrough with a cast-iron agreement that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons; or else with the monumental gamble that war with Iran would represent.

If the US is indeed preparing for a serious showdown, those who argue that President Bush invaded the wrong country in 2003 will undoubtedly feel vindicated. Remarkably, Netanyahu agrees: 'Would it have been smarter to go directly into Iran? Would it have been wiser? In retrospect the answer is probably yes.' But he also argued that one of the most far-reaching yet least recognised military interventions of the past few decades was Israel's daring raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear power station in 1981, which destroyed its nuclear programme. 'Saddam with atomic weapons would have been a great danger, too. …

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