Other critics are more cautious. ‘Any United States bombing campaign would simply begin a multi-move, escalatory process,’ former National Security Council advisers Richard Clarke and Steven Simon wrote in the New York Times. No senior Democrat favours force to stop Iran’s nuclear plans.

Convictions are entrenched on the other side of the political divide. At the end of April, William Kristol wrote in The Weekly Standard, house journal of the neo-conservatives, that US policy must include the threat of violence. ‘It would mean serious preparation for possible military action-including real and urgent operational planning for bombing strikes and for the consequences of such strikes.’ Most Republicans agree.

Iran’s motives are unclear. But there is an obvious truth. Thinking America is even more split than it was in 2002 and 2003 about how to deal with the possibility of a Gulf country acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

But it is votes that count, not brains. US public opinion in the run-up to the November mid-term elections will be decisive. Between the end of 2002 and the beginning of March 2003, the majority bought the case for war. If that happens again, an attack on Iran may be politically difficult to stop.

The objective conclusion, therefore, is that an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, however irrational, is entirely possible. If it happens, my forecast is that Tehran will roar. The region will be dismayed. Things might change in Iran, but not necessarily to the US’ advantage. There will be unforeseen complications. As Iraq has proven, there is a growing gap between the goals of US Gulf policy and what it achieves in practice.

The biggest impact will be in the US. Most Americans are tiring of expensive and ineffective Middle East adventures that cost young lives and split the country. Another that fails to live up to expectations will probably be the last.

A perverse outcome looms. Advocates

of an Iran attack may bring forward the

moment Americans call for US withdrawal

from the region. Neo-conservatives, nevertheless, are cheering on the bombers. It may be their

last chance. This could be the US’ final Gulf hurrah.

Homes fit for Saudis

According to Samba Financial Group, the population of Saudi Arabia will grow to almost 34 million in 2020 from 23 million in 2004. The UN foresees a population of more than 37 million in 2025 and 50 million in 2050.

About 70 per cent of the Saudi population is under 30. As much as 45 per cent is under 15. These groups will change the face of the kingdom. According to Samba economist John Sfakianakis, housing demand is set to rocket. Up to 160,000

new homes will be needed each year to 2020. Samba’s forecast is probably an understatement but confirms a social revolution is happening in Arabia.

Reasons to love the Gulf

A veteran Gulf bank chief executive officer with impeccably conservative credentials set aside his profit and loss statement, sipped tea and

admired the view from his skyscraper office. ‘I have never seen anything like it in my life,’ he said about the region’s business trends. ‘And the amazing thing is that I see no end to it either.’ The same day, Manohar Raghavan, business development manager for 3M in the Gulf, told me he expected sales growth of 40 p