Bomb Iran before it’s too late. Such is the prevalent thinking in certain political quarters over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Once again, these are dangerous times in the Middle East. In the past week alone, there has been an ominous hardening of language and resolve in Washington and elsewhere over Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons.

According to some experts, Iran could have a nuclear warhead as early as the middle of next year and a missile in less than five. Should we be worried? Yes, is the obvious answer. Globally, the growing concern is now palpable and some proposed solu- tions for bringing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime to heel are no less scary than the idea of him having the bomb in the first place.

This week speaker after speaker at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington made the case that the White House should substantially turn up the pressure on, if not place itself on an effective war footing with, Tehran. Admittedly, to some extent this was to be expected, coming as it did from the heart of America’s pro-Israel lobby. Having said that, even by their own hawkish standards, there was a real sense of menace in the tone of the conference. At times this year’s AIPAC pow-wow almost felt like a council of war. Perhaps the scariest thing of all was that many of the guest US Congressmen were among the most bellicose.

“All options must be on the table” and “you know exactly what I’m talking about”, said Republican Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. Like most of those who spoke on the Iran issue, Graham pulled no punches, insisting that if military strikes were initiated, they should not simply target Iran’s nuclear infrastructure but should effectively lay the country to waste, rendering it incapable of any military response whatsoever. “They should not have one plane that can fly or one ship that can float,” was Graham’s apocalyptic conclusion.

Even among more mainstream US political thinking, the “bomb Iran” lobby is gaining momentum.

In a New York Times opinion piece this month, the writer pointed out: “With Iran’s nuclear clock ticking and its people suffering, the world must understand that America’s patience is limited and the time to wait is coming to an end.”

Iranian people suffering? Well, bombing Tehran into oblivion is really going to help alleviate that.

But, hey, look on the positive side, at least American “impatience” would be salved.

What is truly terrifying about all of this is that evidence already exists that US preparations for a military strike appear quite advanced. In the past few weeks, my colleague Rob Edwards reported, in the Sunday Herald, how hundreds of powerful US “bunker-buster” bombs are being shipped from California to the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for a possible attack on Iran.

His story revealed that the US government signed a contract in January to transport 10 ammunition containers to the island. According to a cargo manifest from the US Navy, this included 387 “Blu” bombs used for blasting hardened or underground structures.

A shipping company based in Florida, Superior Maritime Services, will be paid $699,500 to transport many thousands of military items from Concord, California, to Diego Garcia.

“They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran,” said Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies at the University of London, who was quoted in the article. According to Plesch, author of a recent study on US preparations for an attack on Iran, US bombers “are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours”.

Not known for sitting on its own hands when faced with a threat, Israel itself, of course, might very well beat its erstwhile ally to the punch. I well recall how, in 1991, following a few nights of Iraqi Scud missile attacks on Tel Aviv, I went to a morning press conference at which a journalist asked an Israeli military spokesman what their response would be if any of the Iraqi missiles contained chemical or biological weapons.

“We would turn Baghdad into a sheet of glass,” came the Israeli officer’s instant and chilling reply. For a long time now within the Israeli military and political establishment there has been a prevailing consensus that the country’s security depends on its ability to use military force unilaterally in the Middle East as and when the need arises.

Living within easy reach of Iranian missile threat, and faced with the loose cannon that Iran’s President Ahmadinejad undoubtedly is, one can understand Israel’s unease. Many, of course, believe that for Israel to attack Iran it would first require a green light from the Pentagon. Readers familiar with my take on Israeli policy will know that this is not a view I would readily subscribe to.

One need only think back to Operation Babylon, the surprise 1981 Israeli air strike on the Iraqi nuclear reactor being built in Osirak. Israel’s take then was “let’s do it and the world be damned”. For a while there was some international outrage, but what quickly followed in some quarters were a few discreet nods of approval acknowledging Israel’s assertion that it had prevented Saddam Hussein from developing “real” weapons of mass destruction.

Since then, far from letting down its guard, Israel has stepped up both its covert and open preparations for any showdown with an Iranian regime seemingly hell-bent on having a nuclear big stick of its own.

Ahmadinejad has, of course, been doing some sabre-rattling himself. Only yesterday, he was insisting that the “days of hurting the Iranian nation were over” and that the west would be unable to stop “the fast-speeding train of Iranian progress”.

Unthinkable as war against Iran might seem under an Obama administration, only recently the US President again strongly reiterated that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. What’s more, like it or not, Obama inherited a US military machine whose plans for war against Iran had been well advanced under the Bush administration.

For the time being at least, and to that end, “crippling sanctions”, regime change and an all-out military strike still appear to be options on the table.

Alternatively, if a rational way out of the stand-off with Iran is to be found, then Washington and the international community will need to take a fresh look at their role in brokering peace, not just on the issue of Iran, but on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and Middle East as a whole.

In the worst case scenario, those bunker-busters might yet be dropped on Tehran. Then again, maybe just for once, those who make such decisions might see sense and realise the world already has enough madness to contend with.

DAVID PRATT