Mohamed Morsi, the newly-elected president of Egypt, has added to West Asia's volatility by stating that he would reconsider the terms of his country's peace treaty with Israel and seek friendship with Iran. This comes at a time when Iran's nuclear ambitions and the uprisings across the Arab world in which anti-Israel slogans were commonplace have heightened Israel's existential insecurity. Israel's campaign to stop Iran's nuclear pursuit signals the possibility of yet another war in the region.
Israelis feel that a nuclear Iran will change the strategic balance of the region. "There is not much time left," warns Jeremy Issacharoff, an Israeli foreign ministry official. "The point of no return is not when Iran makes a nuclear bomb, but when it acquires the capability to make one." Israeli officials claim evidence of expanding enrichment activities at the Qom nuclear facility in Iran. Iran is believed to be in possession of 120 kg of 20% enriched uranium. While the International Atomic Energy Agency calculates that Iran is adding 8 kg of 20% uranium every month, Israeli estimates put it between 10-12 kg a month. Around 220 kg of 20% enriched uranium is required before it can be enriched further to weapons grade for a nuclear device. At the current pace, Iran would reach that target by the end of 2012, if not earlier, say experts.
In other words, by the end of the year, Iran could have the capability to make a bomb. Israel does not trust Iran's claims of a peaceful nuclear programme because Iran is simultaneously pursuing a missile programme, with Israel well within its range.
Israel also fears the possibility of a nuclear Iran changing the power equations in the region. For instance, the nature of Iran's support to Hamas and Hezbollah, two Islamist groups inimical to Israel, could change post-nuclearisation. Some analysts also believe that Iran will never prop-up Arabs against it. "Iranians will fight us not until the last Iranian but until the last Arab," says a former official of the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency.
Peace agreements between the Arab States and Israel have become fragile after the Arab Spring as Morsi's statement shows. "The peace treaty with Egypt was not between two peoples but between two governments," admits Ilan Mizrahi, former Head of Israel's National Security Council. Once nuclear, Iran's ability to steer sentiments in the Arab countries will increase.
The border areas surrounding Israel have become permeable to forces outside the control of any central authority. Israeli experts fear the possible emergence of an eastern front led by an anti-Israel Iraq in which Iranian influence is strong and growing. Israel hopes that Bashar al-Assad holds on in Syria, but it is overwhelmed by the anti-Israel sentiments unleashed by the Spring.
Israel, however, underscores that it has not lost faith in diplomatic efforts and sanctions. It is also working to stop the Qom facility from further enrichment and shipping out from Iran, its existing bulk of enriched uranium.
India has a stake in the region. For one, Saudi Arabia may want a nuclear device soon after Iran gets one and the country it will turn towards will be Pakistan. This will overturn the gains that Indian diplomacy has made in Saudi Arabia, illustrated most recently in the extradition of Abu Jundal, suspected to be a key participant in the 26/11 terrorist attacks.
Iran going nuclear is as dangerous as a war to preempt it - more the reason why diplomacy must work.
Varghese K George recently visited Israel on an invitation from The Israel Project