The common understanding behind this loose choreography is that a full-on Wagnerian attack with 120 warplanes that would probably invite a large-scale Iranian retaliatory response is too much of a gamble for even the most cocksure Israeli government to take. This would be true even if a large number of Iranian sites were seriously damaged and scientists and other key personnel were killed in a strike, and especially true if the attack could be framed as a failure. Given the IAF’s performance in the 2006 Lebanon war, in which Hezbollah’s command and control structure continued to function and Israel failed to kill a single key political or military leader of a relatively minor guerrilla force, which lacked serious weapons of the kind that the Iranians possess, failure, however defined, seems quite possible. The idea of an Israeli attack on Iran has therefore seemed like a useful fantasy that helps sell newspapers.
So the question that occurs to me is whether something has changed in the last six months or so that might explain the increasingly harsh and uncompromising rhetoric of both Netanyahu and Barak, who by all accounts have become quite close, and run the Iran portfolio together.
The easy answer — as per Romney’s visit to Jerusalem — is that it is an American election year. Obama’s need to conform to Israeli demands will never be greater, and his ability to punish the Israelis — in any scenario short of an actual attack — will never be more constrained. For Netanyahu, pressuring Obama through any and all available means, including Mitt Romney, is a way to produce very tangible results for his country — like bunker busters and more money for Iron Dome — while also scoring political points at home, which he doesn’t mind doing. The fact that he might also damage the political prospects of a man he neither likes nor trusts probably doesn’t keep him up at night either.
Yet the alarm with which this shift in rhetoric has been greeted by key figures in the Israeli security establishment, like former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, and credible news reports of stepped-up NSA and CIA surveillance of Israeli military personnel and movements, suggests to me that something more than election year politics may be involved here. Subsequent to their poor showing in Lebanon, the Israelis appear to have taken out a Syrian nuclear facility, and killed a half-dozen key nuclear scientists in the heart of Tehran, as well as found clever ways to make centrifuges explode inside of Iran’s own nuclear facilities. Israel’s military planners can be disorganized and lazy, but they aren’t dumb.
What the evidence suggests, I feel, is that something big and technology-related has changed in Israeli strategic thinking that has generated a clever new attack plan which seems plausible to Israel’s leaders — and which has made Obama’s people worried about the political and economic effects of an Israeli strike. If that’s true, then the question is whether that change is more likely to result in an Israeli strike, or a pre-emptive American strike — and whether the Iranians will provide the necessary pretext for a war that no one in the region actually wants, but which appears much more likely than it did six months ago, given the continuing Iranian drive for a bomb.
Originally published by the Gatestone Institute http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org