You need a bomb to be taken seriously

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Did you ever think about what the permanent members of the UN Security Council have in common?

As I pen these words, Barack Obama is packing for his flight to Israel tonight.

It's his first official trip to Israel as president, the first official trip abroad of his second term and, to some extent, the US President is going there on his own terms.

He successfully finessed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to manipulate last year's American elections in support of challenger Mitt Romney.

He successfully evaded the question of whether he would attack Iran. And he got re-elected.

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So when he arrives in Israel on Wednesday, he will not be addressing the Israeli parliament. Obama will have separate meetings with Israeli President Peres and Netanyahu. He will then hold a joint press conference with Netanyahu.

On Thursday, the US president will meet with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and will tour a youth development centre with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad. He will also hold a joint press conference with Abbas.

In the afternoon, Obama will deliver a speech to the Israeli people at the Jerusalem International Convention Centre.

On Friday, Obama will meet with King Abdullah II of Jordan and later will hold a joint press conference with Abdullah.

On Saturday, the president will return to Washington, DC.

Back in the US, a group of Republicans wrote to Obama to commend him for traveling to Israel but want to know why he is ignoring the Israeli parliament, given that both Clinton and Bush had addressed the Knesset on their visits.

It's "a customary and symbolic gesture that celebrates our shared democratic ideals and the special relationship between Israel and United States," the Republicans said, asking for "clarification" why Obama isn't doing so.

The short answer is that Obama is giving Netanyahu the finger.

The Israeli PM is on shaky ground – it took him six weeks to stitch together his ragtag coalition government – a government that, to my mind, is unlikely to want to make any concessions whatsoever on Palestinian issues.

On the other hand, Obama is aware that Israel has to give ground because the world has shifted direction. The Muslim Brotherhood is now in control of Egypt.

Palestine can now legally take Israel to the International Criminal Court for human rights violations.

And the American people, straining against slashed budgets, have no stomach for another war in the Middle East.

Which brings us to what I really want to talk about – Iran.

What the permanent members of the UN Security Council have in common is that they are all nuclear powers. And a significant portion of their energy has since the end of World War 2 been devoted to preventing others from doing the same.(Well, there was apartheid South Africa, but they did so covertly with US backing.)

(And then there's Israel, which denies it while making it clear that it has it, again, with US backing.)

Then along came India who decided that the world should not be divided into nuclear haves and have-nots. India exploded a nuclear device in 1974.

Then came Pakistan (who developed their capability with US cooperation because India was friends with the Soviets).

Then came North Korea in 2006.

And now we have Iran, supposedly showing nuclear ambitions, and the Israelis wanting to bomb them before they do so.

Here's my take on this: it's inevitable that Iran will be able to produce viable nuclear warheads.

In 1977 or thereabouts, a Princeton student named John Aristotle Phillips wrote his junior thesis on how to build a nuclear bomb with publically available books and papers.

In 2009 or thereabouts, a teenager named Taylor Wilson (then 14 years old) built a nuclear fusion reactor in his parents' garage.

So the question, to my mind, is not "how do we stop Iran getting the bomb?" but rather, "what do we do when Iran gets the bomb?"

(It's an editorial "we" – I don't include myself in it, and neither should you.)

I'm no fan of Iran. Indeed, I'm terrified of all states that set their interpretation of the word of their god ahead of rational discourse.

But Iran has learned, as India and Pakistan and North Korea have, that no one takes you seriously when they have the capacity to nuke you and you cannot retaliate.

When Iran gets the bomb, what likelihood is there that they will use it?

I will be watching Obama's speech in Jerusalem with great interest. You should too.