With the arrival of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in Israel it seems like the U.S.-Israel talks about Iran were ratcheted up a big notch. As reported in today’s New York Times and elsewhere, Panetta and Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared to have a joint assessment of the current situation and the options ahead. Their talks appear to have reviewed the entire state of Iran’s nuclear development and possible responses to it.
There were a number of points which have now placed the nature of a U.S. and/or Israeli attack on Iran into a sharper focus.
1. Israel recognizes the extent to which any eventual attack by the U.S. would be dramatically more punishing to the Iranian nuclear program than an Israeli attack which would only be a postponing action.
2. Israel would want to attack before the winter when it would prefer not to fight a war.
3. Israel has begun to quantify the extent of likely civilian casualties in the advent of an Iranian and Hezbollah counter-attack against Israel as well as to intensify the re-distribution of gas-masks
4. Israel, correctly or not, believes that for political reasons, it will get stronger U.S. support for an attack prior to November 6 in the event of an Obama re-election.
5. Israel assumes that even if they believe that a Romney Administration would be more sympathetic to Israel’s concerns, a new Administration in January will not want to address right off the mark the taking of military action, thus postponing any U.S. engagement.
6. There is a sense that the U.S. and Israel are trying to increase their capacity to undermine Iranian nuclear development activity through an even more intense use of joint cyber-attacks against the Iranian program.
7. Israel presumably reviewed all the more immediate information that they have obtained on the status and whereabouts of Syria’s WMD’s and scenarios for their likely use and against whom.
The sharpest comment concerning the possibility of imminent action against Iran came from a source outside the current Israeli Government. The former head of the Israeli Mossad, Ephraim Halevy, as reported by the Associated Press as well as the Times predicted that Iran probably had 12 weeks to respond seriously to the Western demands:
If I were an Iranian, I would be very worried about the Israeli talk about a possible attack, because Israel's threats sound serious and credible to me….
Since he left the Government ten years ago, Halevy has always been a sober, careful observer of Israeli security and intelligence matters. There may still be a game of “chicken” being played here, but it seems that U.S. and Israel are now merely discussing timing and modalities; or that is what they clearly want Teheran to believe.