Few would claim that Iran is a pleasant place in which to live, nowadays. It was pretty gruesome under the Shah, when there was no free speech and the secret police were licensed torturers and murderers, but under the present management it isn't much fun, either. It is impossible for the people to behave normally without attracting the attention of those who rule in a manner that has much to do with self-important intolerance (as in some other places, alas). President Bush and others say that Iran presents a nuclear threat to Israel, which possesses some 200 nuclear bombs, all deliverable by US-supplied strike aircraft. The US Congressional Research Service, whose analysts are world-class intellectuals and therefore unpopular with those Washington senators and congressmen who do not want their convictions upset by facts, has just produced a report on Iran's nuclear programme. Its author notes that "Iran continues at its Natanz centrifuge facility to enrich uranium, expand the number of operating centrifuges, and conduct research on new types of centrifuges. Tehran has also continued to produce centrifuge feedstock, as well as work on its heavy-water reactor and associated facilities. Whether Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons programme is, however, unknown. A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) made public in December 2007 assessed that Tehran "halted its nuclear weapons programme," defined as "Iran's nuclear weapon design and weaponisation work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment related work," in 2003. The estimate, however, also assessed that Tehran is "keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons" and that any decision to end a nuclear weapons programme is "inherently reversible." Lots of processes are reversible, but who can blame the US intelligence people for having a bit of a bet-hedge, when their product has been in the past so wilfully warped and criminally misapplied by dedicated warmongers? The official NIE finding that Iran's has "halted its nuclear its weapons programme" is irrelevant. Israel wants to attack Iran, and the Bush administration regards its plan with favour. And among all the reportage and speculation about an Israeli strike came the usual bellicose statements from assorted dignitaries, one of whom, the commander of the nuclear-armed, cruise missile-equipped Fifth Fleet which is bustling energetically around the Persian Gulf, said on July 1 that in the event of being attacked Iran "will not be allowed to close" the Strait of Hormuz. How fascinating. Vice Admiral Cosgriff and his predecessors commanding the Fifth Fleet have been trailing their coats along the coast of Iran for years. Their ships and aircraft have sailed and flown directly towards the coastline deliberately provoking reaction and thus assessing defences. Reconnaissance aircraft and satellites have produced target information on (almost) every Iranian site that is capable of retaliating against an attack. If an enemy strikes Iran, said Iranian General Muhammad Ali Jafari, "It is natural that (Iran would use) all of its capabilities against the enemy, and definitely our control of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz would be one of our actions." Iran will retaliate against whoever seeks to be its enemy. The Gulf's shipping routes would be blocked, with appalling consequences. As to the actual bombing of Iran, consider the map of the Middle East. There are only a few routes that Israeli aircraft could take to reach Iran. They couldn't go north and east, through Turkey, because the Turks would react ferociously. They could go south and then via Saudi Arabia (as they did last time, when they bombed Iraq), because Sunni Saudi Arabia fears Shia Iran and might let them through - but if the Saudis did go so far as to help Israel like this, the consequences would be appalling. So that route is unlikely. Overflying Jordan or Syria would be practicable, because the US would forbid Jordan to interfere and the Syrian air force is impotent. But east of Syria and Jordan lies Iraq, whose airspace is controlled by America and nobody else. The government of Iraq has no say whatever in who can overfly its country. And if Israeli aircraft were permitted to fly unchallenged over Iraq's territory (and back; probably with aerial refuelling) it would be proof positive of US involvement. The consequences cannot be predicted in detail, but there is no doubt reaction against America that would not be confined to rhetoric. Of more importance would be the world fall-out; perhaps literally. Nobody knows what radioactive chaos might be created by Israeli bombs blasting nuclear plants. But we all know that the price of oil would go through the roof - even without Iran blocking the Gulf. Much publicity was given to a statement on July 2 by the US Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, when he was asked about the possibility of an Israeli attack. He said, "This is a very unstable part of the world and I don't need it to be more unstable.... Opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us." How this could be interpreted, as it was by most US media, as a sign of "discouragement" to Israel is intriguing. (And use of the personal pronoun "I" says a great deal: who is this man who is grown so mighty?) Associated Press also recorded that Mullen "refused to say what Israeli leaders had told him during his meetings with them last week about any intentions to strike Iran." But we might have some idea, if only because of what he said on May 4 concerning US support for Israel. He declared that the US "has been at Israel's side for all of 60 years, it will be for the next 60 years, 100 years and 1,000 years. With all its success, I am a tremendous admirer and have great respect for Israel." This was a blatantly political statement by a uniformed officer who was simply following his leader, George W Bush, who is similarly committed to Israeli supremacy. It was reported on June 4, following a Bush meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Olmert, that the latter said, "We reached agreement on the need to take care of the Iranian threat. I left with a lot less question marks (than) I had entered with regarding the means, the timetable restrictions, and American resoluteness to deal with the problem. George Bush understands the severity of the Iranian threat and the need to vanquish it, and intends to act on that matter before the end of his term in the White House." The writing is on the wall. George W Bush is no more a body-builder than he is an intellectual, but comparison with the Israelite Samson is compelling. Bush is pulling down the pillars of civilisation by his reckless barbarity. But while Samson paid the ultimate price for his destruction, George Bush will go into lucrative retirement, leaving the world to suffer from his eight years of arrogance. Permitting Israel to attack Iran will leave a dreadful legacy. The writer is a South Asian political and military affairs analyst http://www.briancloughley.com