The Spectator is a serious weekly magazine, and Douglas Davis is a serious journalist who now and again contributes to it on Middle Eastern topics. The cover of the current issue has a big bold headline: “The nuclear option: how Israel can stop Iran.” Slightly smaller type-face below continues, “Douglas Davis says that Israel is likely to launch a nuclear attack this year.”
Strong stuff indeed. Davis makes clear in his article that he has been talking to “a senior Israeli source,” whom of course he does not identify. There follows some discussion of centrifuges, hardened facilities, the neutron bomb, but nothing too technical. Davis concludes that the Iranians may be flaunting their nuclear programme to goad the Israelis into a pre-emptive attack. In which case, their own nuclear response might already be prepared, and the world would see it as justified.
Now the day after Davis’s article appeared, the Daily Telegraph, a serious newspaper, ran an article by Michael Burleigh, a serious academic and author of several books of great insight into the totalitarian movements of the 20th century. Burleigh made exactly the same point that the Iranians hope to provoke Israel into setting a course that leads to its own destruction.
And the day after that, the Sunday Times, another serious newspaper, ran a front-page story that splashed, “Revealed: Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran.” These plans were said to have been “disclosed” and refers to “one of the sources” who did the disclosing. This article was more circumstantial in detailing possible air-paths, targets and operational methods.
What on earth is going on? “Sources” are at work manipulating the press. Israel put out a rather angry denial, but then it would, wouldn’t it? Unless the intention is to frighten the Iranians, but that would be pointless as this confrontation is entirely of their own making. Could it be a double bluff? Having leaked what they about to do, that is to say, the Israelis will expect the Iranians to conclude that this is exactly what they will not do. In the Second World War several intelligence master-strokes operated on these lines.
More unidentifiable “sources” have gone further, suggesting that these stories have a sinister inspiration, in short that the Iranians originated them. It is hard to see how this could be possible, as it would involve conspiring with the quoted Israeli “sources” and that is not credible. We are in that famous hall of mirrors where intelligence and politics criss-cross and distort what the public gets to hear. The only reliable conclusion is that this particular crisis is moving irresistibly forward, and its resolution will have an immense impact on the future of the world.