The recent news that Iran had acquired enough low-enriched uranium to proceed to the next stage in the development of a nuclear weapon once again raised the spectre of a looming military confrontation. This may seem absurd at a time when the Obama administration is seeking to review its strategy in the Middle East and promising greater engagement with Iran. But with the shift to the right in the recent Israeli elections the possibility of conflict still cannot be ruled out.
The outcome of a surgical strike conducted by Israel and/or the US is widely seen as at best uncertain and at worst counter-productive in that it is unlikely to significantly delay any programme and is more likely to concentrate minds or accelerate the programme. Moreover, a strike would most likely reinforce popular support for the Islamic Republic among a hitherto disaffected public, increase anti-western sentiment and raise the prospect of retaliation. To preclude this, logic dictates that US military planners would have to broaden their range of targets possibly beyond military infrastructure. Few doubt that US air power could yet inflict considerable damage; still fewer, however, have considered the long-term political cost to the US and the ramifications for the region as a whole, to say nothing of the international economy.
There is undoubtedly now considerably less enthusiasm for the military option than there was under George Bush. Even the most hawkish opponents of Iran are willing to give engagement a chance. Its failure, they conjecture, will simply reinforce their position. But ultimately, Iran’s nuclear programme is a political problem that requires a political solution. Get the politics right and much else will fall into place.
Ali M Ansari is professor of Iranian history at University of St Andrews in Scotland
The US Army has tested a new tank shell that has an infrared seeker in its nose and can be lofted over hills or walls. Insurgent forces – be warned.
UK-based HESCO Bastion revolutionised base protection for soldiers when it revealed its Concertainer concept in 1989, relegating the soldier’s old friend, the sandbag, to history. The product is essentially made up of large interlinked wire-mesh baskets lined with a geotextile bag that can be filled with soil, stones or whatever else is lying around.
This allows soldiers to quickly throw up walls around a forward position and has been widely adopted for Afghanistan, Iraq and humanitarian aid bases around the world.
The company has constantly evolved the design and has now launched a new version, called RAID 7, which, like the old system, can be deployed by being dragged behind a truck but at an impressive 24 times faster than before. In fact, the company claims that it can be used to deploy a 333m-long, 2.2m-high wall in under a minute. It then needs to be filled to offer ballistic protection, but its basic, empty form offers visual cover and is sturdy enough to be used as a barrier in a crowd control situation.
France’s new military base in the United Arab Emirates capital, Abu Dhabi, will open for business on 27 May. The air, sea and land base, which will be inaugurated by French president Nicolas Sarkozy, will house 450 personnel, and signals France’s determination to become a key strategic player in the oil-rich Gulf.
The French have also announced plans to open the first overseas branch of their famous Saint-Cyr military school in Doha, Qatar, by 2011.
According to François Heisbourg, chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, French military strategy, traditionally focused on Francophone Africa, is shifting. “The strategic fault line from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean by way of the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf is now considered as being the pivot of French defence intervention scenarios,” he says. France is doubling its arms spending this year to €20.3bn.
Horn of Africa – France’s largest overseas military base is in Djibouti, which hosts several thousand French personnel, including the 13th Half Brigade of the Foreign Legion.
Afghanistan – France’s main military base is in Kapisa province northeast of Kabul, where 600 troops serve. French Guiana – There are 2,600 civil and military armed forces personnel in French Guiana. Of these 650 are stationed at Kourou to protect the Guiana Space Centre.
New Caledonia – France recently established its command HQ of the French Pacific forces in New Caledonia in order to form a tactical alliance with Australia.