Former head of the Royal Navy and Labour security minister Lord West has told The Huffington Post the likelihood of Israel launching an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities was increasing, and that he worried the US and subsequently Britain would be drawn into a wider conflict with Tehran.
As part of a wide-ranging interview on both cyber-warfare and security issues in the Middle East, Lord West, who served as security minister under Gordon Brown, told us he was "worried" about a potential Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, the likelihood of which "has become somewhat greater."
"I’m not convinced in my own mind that they would get clearance from the US before they did it," he said. " I think there are some very interesting dynamics there, and should the Israelis do something like an attack, the Iranians would react on the assumption that the Americans were involved.
"So the Americans might have to throw themselves into this, they will still reap the whirlwind. It’s better to reap the whirlwind having knocked out all the capabilities. Do the Israelis know where all the nuclear sites are? I doubt that very much, but I’m sure the Americans do."
West expressed concerns - privately held by many senior MPs - that Britain could easily find itself drawn into a conflict with Iran because of its naval assets in the Straits of Hormuz, through which around 40% of the world's oil leaves the Middle East.
"We are very tied to the Americans in terms of responses towards the Iranians, we have a lot of assets, commercial assets, in that region, which of course become vulnerable. If for example, Israelis did attack, and the Americans decided they had to go in on it, I think it’s quite difficult to see us not getting involved," he says.
"In the Straits of Hormuz we have the best and most capable mine countering assets. And in the same way that the Americans would feel they had to reap the whirlwind, we would be vulnerable as well, even if we didn’t want to do it.
"I think it would be a terrible, terrible error to attack Iran, one cannot predict what would happen. We ought to try not to be involved, but we might have no choice. Realpolitik means sometimes you sometimes have to get involved."
However West believes Britain ought to rule out any intervention in Syria, saying defence cuts and the likely strength of the Syrian regime's defences would make it impossible.
"Because we are still involved with Afghanistan and because we have cut the military to the bone, I can’t see how it would be possible," he says.
Speaking to the Commons on Monday afternoon foreign secretary William Hague refused to rule out military action in Syria, which he said had parallels with the Bosnian conflict of the 1990s.
"You always want to keep everything on the table, I can understand that," Lord West tells us, "But I cannot see any option that would make sense for us to be involved militarily that would not be foolhardy. Basically I find it hard to see any situation where British forces would be involved.
"I don’t think a single aircraft of ours was shot at in Libya," he went on. "But Syria’s army is basically untouched at the moment. They have surface to air missiles, it’s a very different kettle of fish."
Russia has indicated it would veto any resolution at the UN Security Council for greater sanctions or military action. Moscow has suggested an alternative set of talks to resolve the crisis, but William Hague told MPs on Monday that Britian would only support those talks if it was clear they would be working towards implementing the plan by Kofi Annan to restart peace talks between the Syrian regime and the government.
The former UN Secretary General admitted last week that his plan was "not working".
The only way I can see this being resolved without a lengthy civil war is through Russia and the Arabs, and for Russia to suddenly change their view on this," West told us.
"What’s interesting is the Sunni-Shia split that’s becoming evident in Syria and becoming evident elsewhere. It’s interesting to see the support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar for the rebels, but it means Iran is more likely to support the Syrian regime and it all adds to the mix.
"The Qataris are slightly miffed that their huge efforts in Libya, where they were a key player, has not been recognised. It’s made them keener to get involved in Syria, primarily backstage. And so the Iranians see this as being a threat to their status within the region."
Since leaving government Lord West has focused on cyber-security, and spoke to HuffPost about the recent outbreak of the Flame virus, which the UN has described as an "espionage tool". The virus is thought to have targeted high-level government infrastructure in Iran.
"I think there is an interesting debate to be had about this," says West. "There has been an acknowledgement by the Americans that they have used cyber as an offensive weapon. This means we’re in a new world now, people say. I don’t believe that, there were people doing these things before, anyone who thought that highly capable nations weren’t going to do that sort of thing if they wanted to, they were living in a dream world."
Lord West says that while he applauds steps taken by the coalition to beef-up safeguards against a cyber attack on Britain, he told us: "Even though we’re probably ahead of most countries in the world, we are still behind the power curve."
"More money has to go into information assurance," he says. "We’re on the right track, the Cabinet Office is coordinating it, it’s better coordinated than it was. But we have to put more and more effort into this. Some nations are living with their heads in the sand. You can’t do these things in isolation."
"These things are really, really high risk and could cause uneblievable damage. If you take all the grids down, we go back to the stone age, in a way. Those are the risks you can start dreaming about with cyber, and it doesn’t take many more steps before you’re starting to talk about those things.
"The budget is still too small, but given the fact we’re broke shows how impotant they now think this is, that they put any money in at all."