Throughout 2012, there have been signs that Israel was planning a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. First, none other than Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta suggested that Israel would strike in the spring (thus undermining the strike). Then Israeli media reported that a strike was possible in October, before the U.S. elections, when it would have been difficult for President Barack Obama to object or interfere.
I speculated that May and December were also possibilities–the latter because if Obama were re-elected, there was no way that Israel could risk its security on a second Obama term after being undermined so badly for four years.
Israel now faces a choice: does it hold back, in the hope that Obama will a) prepare a military option and b) confront Iran more aggressively so that war becomes unnecessary? Or does it take matters into its own hands–as it did in Syria in 2007, when the Bush administration failed to give the green light?
The answer would seem to be the latter, as the Obama administration has refused to cooperate with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to draw a “red line” on Iranian nuclear enrichment. Netanyahu has implied that Iran should be stopped “before Iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb.”
To the extent that the Obama administration has set any limit at all, it has suggested that Iran might be stopped before it has the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon to its target–i.e. far too late.
The U.S. military and intelligence establishment is in turmoil, with the sudden resignation of CIA director David Petraeus, the ongoing withdrawal from Afghanistan, and apparent plans to intervene in Mali. The Obama administration is in a weak position to offer security guarantees to Israel–or to protest if Israel takes action on its own.
All of these factors suggest that Israel has faces a unique opportunity–and a fateful choice.