by RAY FLEMING

IT was a warlike weekend. First, on Friday, we had Tony Blair mentioning the threat from Iran 58 times while giving evidence about the war in Iraq; then on Saturday came the announcement that the United States is to sell a $6.35 billion arms package to Taiwan; and that was topped off by Sunday's news of the fast-tracking of US missile defence systems for the Gulf States to protect them against attack from Iran. The headline over a leading article in yesterday's Guardian -- “Reverting to Bush” -- was only too predictable.

It is possible, if disappointing, to understand the Middle East move. As the prospect of intensified sanctions against Iran for its unwillingness to reach a deal over its enriched uranium draws closer it is logical to take defensive steps against a military response in the region by Tehran. It also, indirectly, prevents Israel from taking the law into its own hands. But the Taiwan armament reinforcement makes no sense at all -- especially at a time that the US wants China to join in sanctions against Iran. Relations between mainland China and Taiwan are probably better than at any time in the recent past and, in any case, the idea that Taiwan could itself resist aggression from China is nonsense. Beijing is now wise enough to avoid any knee-jerk reaction to Washington's move but American companies manufacturing the military hardware involved, among them Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, will probably be the ones to suffer.