When celebrated CIA operative Robert Baer speaks, the world ought to listen. His finger is firmly on the pulse of the Middle East, and he rarely misses a beat. This week, Mr Baer has gone on record as stating that there is "near certainty" that Israel is "planning an attack" on Iran, predicting that it may occur "before the vote on a Palestinian state" in September. For years now we have been treated to incessant warnings of the potential catastrophic war between these two non-Arab Middle Eastern nations; often with very little in the way of concrete evidence to support the claims. However, these latest assertions need to be treated with the utmost respect and unequivocally absorbed.
Over the last few years, both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have expressed their desire to destroy one another. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has described Iran as "the gravest threat to our existence"; openly speaking of the need to thwart Iran's nuclear program. In February 2010, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated that Israel is "going downhill toward decline and fall, and God willing its obliteration is certain". Thus far, all the menacing rhetoric has not been trailed by any violence or aggression.
Robert Baer's revelations will certainly cause a great deal of anxiety for anyone hoping that the Middle Eastern quandaries were beginning to die down following the recent Arab rebellions. Baer suggests that Netanyahu is "hoping to draw the United States into the conflict" and that a "nightmare scenario" was occurring. He also unveiled how the US was already preparing itself for involvement: "Our special forces are already looking at Iranian targets in Iraq and across the border [in Iran] which we would strike. What we're facing here is an escalation, rather than a planned out-and-out war". If these reports are to be believed, then the West should be preparing itself for an almighty headache.
The consequences of an Israeli-Iran war would be devastating. Oil prices would levitate to new, unheard of levels, eradicating any likelihood of an economic recovery. The American public would be sceptical over further involvement in the region; undoubtedly fearing heavy military personnel losses. Added to that - and perhaps more significantly - the world would literally be divided. Whilst the Iranian government refuse to acknowledge the State of Israel - they continually refer to them as the 'Zionist regime' - other nations, mostly Arab, communist and non-aligned states, also harbour negative feelings towards Israel.
Arguably, the most significant heavyweight player - aside from America - would be Russia. For several decades now, Russia has acted as Iran's devoted weapons supplier. Just three years ago, Russia helped deliver Iran's S-300 air defence system, a system described by one Russian defence expert as "formidable". He stated, "It's purely a defence system. But it's very effective. It's much better than the US system". Were Israel to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, Russia would unrelentingly back their Muslim allies. Would America be willing to tackle a sophisticated Russian military force alongside Iran's obstinate Revolutionary Guard; not to mention any other so-called 'anti-Israeli' nation determined to witness the world's fourth largest military power taken down a peg or two?
President Obama has consistently spoken of America's relationship with Israel as one of indestructibility. During a DNC speech in Washington last month, Obama said the following: "Israel's security will always be at the top tier of considerations in terms of how America manages its foreign policy". He also spoke of his intentions to create a "strong Israel". But as Robert Baer rightly alludes to, "What happens when you see 100 F-16's approaching Iraq and there is a call to the White House [from Netanyahu] that says, 'We're going in, we're at war with Iran?'" And that is the all important scenario. How would Mr Obama act? During his time in office so far, his impulsive decision-making has been far from impressive.
Numerous displays of passive leadership have left some doubting whether or not Obama would be up to the challenge if it came to an all-out war. His handling of the Egyptian situation, following the uprisings, was a complete shambles - supporting Mubarak right up until the demonstrators had all but toppled him, then claiming to have backed the rebellion - and his involvements with the Israel-Palestine dilemma have been something of a joke; preaching peace whilst assisting Israel in its suppression of Palestinians. As Baer says, "He [Obama] has little influence over Netanyahu. And he knows it". This is Obama's 'can't beat 'em, join 'em' moment. He would rather have Israel as an uncontrollable associate than as an uncontrollable adversary.
Whilst this potential crisis is - to say the least - undesirable and threatening, it is imperative to understand the viewpoints of both sides when scrutinising the situation. Both are extremely paranoid states. Israel (rightfully) fears a nuclear armed Iran. When Israeli citizens continually observe Ahmadinejad's supporters in the streets of Tehran chanting "death to Israel", they are correct to assume that Iran would use nuclear bombs - which it may or may not have - to destroy the state of Israel. On the other hand, Iranian's, fearful of western contribution in their affairs following 1953's Operation Ajax, are right to covet autonomy. After Churchill and Eisenhower all but destroyed Iran's democracy, is it any wonder Iranian's fear any mention of the word 'westernisation'.
America's closeness to Israel must be a real concern for Iran. Following the Iranian revolution in 1979, America, disgusted by Iran's new found independence, supported Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces in their invasion of Khuzestan, igniting the Iran-Iraq war. They can clearly pre-empt America's participation were a full-scale assault forthcoming from Israel. Nevertheless, the most significant point is one that Israel is failing to comprehend. What Israel fails to decipher is that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's support and popularity is in rapid decline. His policies are not admired and Iranian's would rather live in a peaceful non-combative environment. But if Israel were to drop missiles on Iran's nuclear sites, all of Ahmadinejad's crazed, fanatical notions would be justified in the minds of ordinary Muslims.
For this crisis to diminish, both leaders - however demented - need to take a step back and think rationally. Neither nation would prosper from an expensive drawn-out conflict and, if anything, would inflame a whole generation's worth of hatred and anger. Whether Netanyahu and Ahmadinejad are judiciously capable of carrying off this kind of reserved, inert policy-making is questionable. The likes of Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev need to act diplomatically and avoid encouraging or promoting violence of any kind. But shall this subtle, peaceful mediation prevail in the face of irrational fear and scaremongering? Who knows, time will tell. Maybe, just maybe, there is still time to preclude this persistently ticking time bomb.