Much of the art of politics is fitting a narrative that suits your purposes to recent events. A big event like the 300 or more missiles that Iran rained down on Israel spawns a number of them. Israel wants to be both the victim and the victor – earning the right to retaliate and to brag at its effectiveness in neutralising the attack. Iran points to its relative restraint and seeks to play the role of a patient but exasperated teacher coping with a badly behaved pupil. Both sound quite plausible stories based on the events of the weekend.

But underneath the veneer, the reality is all about power. With its alliance with the world’s only superpower, Israel has pretty close to carte blanche with respect to what it can get away with. Its well-organised political structure, highly trained and equipped military and effective local diplomacy makes it all but immune to attack even without talking about its barely kept secret nuclear capability. If I were an Israeli citizen I would not have much to fear rationally.

Iran is not powerless, though. With a large and well-educated population, oil reserves and an enviable strategic position it is a state to reckoned with. If the Middle East were left to its own devices, Iran would undoubtedly emerge as the most powerful state in the region. Only the animosity of the United States stands in its way.

But the US does stand in its way, and Israel is not going to give it an easy ride either.

However, it seems to me that something has changed this weekend regarding the balance of power. 99% of the missiles were intercepted – but 1% got through. We are told the damage was trivial. But what of that, the size of the damage depends on the payload. The bang could easily have been much bigger. And it is quite likely that the Iranians did not want to cause too much in the way of human suffering that could be turned into propaganda later. But this might not be the choice they would make next time.

It seems overwhelmingly likely that the Iranians will soon be in possession of nuclear weapons. They might even have them already. They have enough drones to keep Russia supplied. These seem to have the ability to deplete Israel’s defences. Ballistic missiles armed with nuclear payloads can now plausibly be aimed at Tel Aviv with a real chance of getting through.

It would be suicidal for Iran to do so. Israel would have the means of revenge. But is it totally inconceivable that an ageing mullah might not be happy to assign a big chunk of his fellow countrymen to a glorious martyrdom? Iran can afford to lose a city or two. Israel can’t. Samson pulled down the temple of the Philistines, but he still ended up dead.

I hope of course that this scenario never comes to pass and I don’t think it is very likely that it will. But the fact that Israel now has to contend with the possibility that there is a plausible war it could lose badly brings a new factor into the situation. The rhetoric from both sides will cover this up for now, but it won’t be invisible to future historians.

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