Israel’s dilemma in the war of words with Iran and its possible escalation to a military confrontation appears to come down only to the issue of timing. After November 6, Israel believes that it will face either an Obama Administration which will be far more reluctant to support an Israeli attack of Iran, or attacking Iran itself, than now is the case; or a brand new Romney Administration just getting organized.
Beyond the decision-making issue for Obama, practically speaking there will a transition at State—at least at the very top—with Secretary Clinton leaving and being replaced by Ambassador Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Senator John Kerry, NSC Advisor Thomas Donilon, or….This alone will require time, a transition, confirmation, and also a natural shake-up in the White House. From an Israeli perspective this means time working against the U.S. making a move at least until early spring.
While it is widely suggested, implied, and reported that much of the Israeli security circle would like a Romney victory, this projects an even longer time delay until a ready, reasonable national security team will be in place; perhaps as late as June. For a Romney White House to launch an attack on Iran as one of its first international initiatives would require a level of certainty that would even satisfy the most hardline Obama skeptics. Of course if John Bolton were Romney’s Secretary of State, things might be different or if Robert Zoellick gets the job an attack might be even less likely than if Obama is re-elected.
So given this timing conundrum, the Netanyahu Government appears to be playing an enormous number of rather dangerous political cards given the stakes at play for Israel if Bibi errs. It still seems to me that pushing the U.S. in the long run may well be much more successful militarily –if and when—then permitting the Israeli hawks and right wing push Israeli into a tragic mistake. Having Bibi’s friends, political surrogates, past cronies, and academics—at home and abroad– fanning the flames at this time does not appear to be very constructive. It also could undermine what little karma may still exist between Obama and Netanyahu, given the fact that there is a good chance that they both will be dealing with each other for another term.
The fact is that a nuclear Iran would present at least as many regional problems to Arab States and Turkey, as well as well as Europe and the U.S. Continued economic and diplomatic pressure may succeed and Israel is certainly continuing cyber-attacking Iran. Israel and the West need to consider more seriously the nuclear proliferation effect a nuclear Iran or even a non-nuclear Iran will have. There is little reason not to assume that one could wake up one morning soon and discover that the Saudis or the Turks have acquired nuclear weapons and a delivery system which they have just tested! Admittedly, neither Turkey nor Saudi Arabia has been as hostile or bellicose or confrontational towards Israel as have the Iranians; but at some point, unfortunately, Israel will be forced to accept the fact that it has neighbors who have nuclear weapons. Welcome to the game of deterrence.