SELWYN DORFMAN

Tel Aviv or Marbella? No, there’s only one place to be – Edinburgh

THERE are only three people in Britain today who still think that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was right and justified: Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell — and me.

I won’t rehash all the old arguments. Instead, just let me ask you one question: Supposing we hadn’t invaded Iraq, what do you think would have happened?

The counterfactual always raises intriguing possibilities.

Saddam Hussein might have retired to the south of France along with his two “mad as a bucket of frogs” sons.

Iraq could have then become a liberal democracy, a veritable “Luxembourg of the Levant”.

But I can see you’re not 100 per cent convinced.

Then try this one for size. Saddam and his psychotic sons remain in power and then react to the 2011 Arab Spring in exactly the same way that their Ba’athist neighbour Bashar al-Assad does.

Civil war erupts with hundreds of rival factions all fighting one another, the country dissolves into bloody chaos with Saddam again using poison gas just as he did 20 years earlier against Iran and the Kurds.

Finally, the Russians come to the Iraqi dictator’s rescue — or don’t.

Doesn’t that sound like the most likely scenario if we hadn’t invaded Iraq in 2003?

Problem is, though, you can’t admit it because you’d then feel compelled to shake Tony Blair’s hand and congratulate him for having the foresight to depose Saddam, thereby saving hundreds of thousands of lives in the long run.

Sure, Iraq turned out bad, though I still argue that was not Blair or Bush’s fault.

But even Alex Salmond, who says Blair is a war criminal, would have to acknowledge that Iraq never descended to the depths of hell that Syria has experienced these past seven years.

When will Syria ever recover? Even if Assad is ultimately successful in regaining control of most of the country — and he’s moving towards that point — how will he rebuild a nation that is so wrecked and at the same time so distrustful of him?

That’s not my concern and, frankly, my sympathy for the Syrian regime and its people is limited.

For 70 years, they have been at war with Israel — a country which they are free to hate if they so choose but which has never posed any threat to them. When other Arab leaders eventually reached out to make peace with the Zionists, Syria stood firm, its admirers praising the Assads for representing the ordinary “Arab in the street” in contrast to that “traitor” Sadat.

And now the country is in ruins, unlike Egypt and Jordan which, for all their troubles, are still functioning states.

It’s against that backdrop that we must judge Benjamin Netanyahu’s relations with Russia.

My colleague Doreen Wachmann worries about cosying up to despots, compromising our principles and damaging our Jewish soul.

These are legitimate concerns as they are for any democratic leader who has to shake hands with “mad and bad” dictators.

Does anyone think it was wrong for Trump to meet face to face with Mr Kim, of North Korea?

Netanyahu is no fool. He knows that Putin is unprincipled and a menace to eastern Europe. He’s not going to tell his Russian counterpart that the annexation of Crimea is unforgivable — though he undoubtedly thinks it, in common with every leader of the free world.

I wasn’t invited to take notes at the Netanyahu/Putin meetings, but it isn’t hard to guess what they’ve agreed. Israel accepts that Assad will remain in nominal power because that’s the least worst option available.

But if Russia can keep Assad on a tight leash to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid like flying planes, missiles or drones over the Golan, that’s fine.

A Russian-controlled Syria isn’t ideal, but it beats a Syria where Assad, ISIS or a myriad of other groups are running amok.

As for the Iranians, Putin will keep them, like the Tsar in Fiddler on the Roof, “far away from us”. And if the Iranians start getting twitchy and need to be roughed up a bit by Israel, Putin will say he didn’t see anything.

That way, everyone wins. Russia controls Syria through Assad and Israel gets security guarantees with the freedom to punish bad people if they step out of line.

Maybe one day Syria will become “Sweden In The Sand”. Until that day dawns, the Netanyahu/Putin deal will have to do.

But, hey, it’s August now which means there’s only one place for any decent, self-respecting, cultured Jew to be seen. No, not Tel Aviv or Marbella: Edinburgh!

Yes, it’s Fringe Festival time and Mrs Dorfman and I will be up there again for a few days later in the month, enjoying the atmosphere and popping into a variety of shows.

I know a lot of readers will be in Edinburgh, too, unsure which of the thousands of events are worth seeing.

Can I recommend anything in particular? I certainly can. For the kiddies, how about Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom, on at the Pleasance Courtyard (music composed and arranged by Jake Dorfman).

And for the adults, I would not miss Mad Women in My Attic, which you can see at Riddle’s Court (music performed by Jake Dorfman).

If you spot me in Edinburgh in August, come over, say hello and I’ll buy you a dram.

Such an offer from a Scottish Jew, like the Brexit referendum, comes once in a lifetime.

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