Israel continues to champion pre-emptive attack on Iran

A pre-emptive strike against Iran would be justifiable in the case of an imminent threat of attack, according to a senior Israeli diplomat speaking in London on 16 March.

“Iran represents an existential threat to the state of Israel and we will not compromise on our national security,” said Ran Gidor, minister-counsellor for political affairs at the Israeli embassy in London, at an event organised by the Frontline Club, an independent journalist network.

In a debate notable for a general consensus that an attack on Iran would be the worst option available, Gidor struck a consistently belligerent tone.

It was impossible to dismiss the possibility that if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapons capability it would attack Israel, he said.

“You can’t rule out an Iranian nuclear attack for the simple reason that the situation between Iran and Israel doesn’t make any sense.

“We don’t share a common border. We’ve never occupied Iranian territory. We’ve never gone to war with them. Even with the most left wing government there’s nothing that we could put on the table in return for peace. The situation is Medieval – we’re the infidels.

“Even [former president of Iran] Rafsanjani said that it would only take one nuclear strike to wipe out Israel, whereas it would take several to do the same to Iran.”

A nuclear Iran could also lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, said Gidor.

“There are already 16 countries in the Middle East pursuing incipient nuclear weapons. So we’d potentially have a situation where the world’s least stable region is going nuclear. A clash with [Lebanese Islamic militant group] Hizbollah in the future could escalate to a nuclear war.”

In recent weeks, President Obama has been at pains to distance himself from the possibility of an imminent US attack on Iran, but he has also ruled out containment of a nuclear Iran as an option.

According to Gidor, Washington and Tel Aviv differ only on the timing of a pre-emptive strike against the Islamic Republic.

“There is zero difference in our analysis and that of the US. We agree that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb. We agree that this is not acceptable. And we agree that Israel has the right to defend itself.

“The only difference is over timing. This is because first the US has elections this year, second the US is not in range of Iranian missiles, and third Iran hasn’t threatened the US with annihilation.”

For Israel, Iran’s determination to develop a nuclear weapon is beyond question.

“Iran is developing nuclear capability so that it can break out in weeks rather than months or years,” said Gidor.

Gidor dismissed parallels with Iraq, a country that Western governments claimed to be within touching distance of a nuclear arms capability only to find that it had no such programme when a US-led alliance invaded in 2003.

“Not everything follows a historical pattern and the 2003 analogy is not helpful,” he said. “There are two parallels that are helpful though and they are Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007.

“Israel was condemned at the time by the international community [for unilaterally destroying nascent nuclear weapons programmes in the two countries]. However, the true nature of the Assad regime has now been exposed to the international public and few people would say that we haven’t done the world a great service.”

While one can question whether or not this is indeed the case, Gidor went further, saying that Israel would feel entirely within its rights to take the same action against Iran.

“We feel we were vindicated before and we would feel entirely justified in doing whatever necessary in self-defence, which if a threat of attack was imminent would include a pre-emptive strike.”

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Richard Nield is a freelance journalist, photographer and filmmaker covering the Middle East and Africa. In 10 years covering the region, he has been published and broadcast by clients including the BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Independent and Foreign Policy magazine. He has reported from throughout the region, including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, South Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.