Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, is director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.
This fall, all the boxes will be checked for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Consider this Aug. 1 statement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday that “there are risks in the situation today
. . . [but] it’s infinitely more dangerous . . . to deal with a nuclear Iran in the future.” When President Shimon Peres added his voice to the public opposition to a unilateral Israeli strike this fall, an associate of Netanyahu accused Peres of having “forgotten” the role of Israel’s president. Israeli logic holds that it must choose between, as the media reports put it, the bomb and the bombing.
The Iranian regime will soon possess enough low-enriched uranium to build an arsenal of nuclear bombs. Moreover, Iran’s deputy navy commander, Abbas Zamini, said in June that “preliminary steps in making an atomic submarine have started.” This provides Iran an excuse to continue enriching its uranium stockpiles to weapons-grade levels. Meanwhile, “P5+1” negotiations have ended without an agreement. Western-imposed sanctions have damaged Iran’s economy but have not produced a shift in the regime’s political thinking or nuclear drive. Covert operations against Iran’s nuclear facilities and scientists — for which no one has claimed responsibility — have similarly failed to stop the program. Despite some political difficulties, the regime in Tehran continues to reign.
Add to all this the issue of the “zone of immunity” — the point at which Iran’s nuclear facilities would become immune to an Israeli military strike. For Israel, the conclusion is clear.
As Netanyahu and Barak rule out arguments against an attack, they are watching developments in the Sunni world. Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Libya have increased oil production, reducing fears that an attack would send prices skyrocketing at a time of international economic angst. The bleeding Assad regime in Syria is in no position to support Tehran. Rising Sunni-Shiite tensions in the region could potentially ease collective Islamic outrage over an Israeli attack on Iran.
Netanyahu and Barak are acutely aware of the U.S. election calendar. Moreover, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in an Aug. 1 news conference with Barak, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons “poses a threat not only to Israel, but to the entire region. The United States is also a focus of that threat as indeed [is] the rest of the world.”
Despite seeing eye to eye on this strategic goal, the United States and Israel disagree on the timeline for possible military action against Iran. Superior U.S. operational capabilities mean that it will be another year or two before Iran’s nuclear sites become “immune” to a U.S.attack. Unlike Israel, therefore, the United States can afford to delay beyond this fall, which is precisely what the Obama administration wants. Leave your planes in their hangars, the president has signaled to Israel.
A long-standing principle of Israeli defense doctrine is that it will never ask the United States to fight for it. That is why Israel’s political leaders have emphasized that when it comes to national security, Israel will ultimately decide and act on its own. Unfortunately, what Israeli leaders may not fully grasp is that while they can attack alone, Israel will need the United States both the day after and the decade after a strike to ensure that Iran does not reconstitute its program. Disregarding U.S. requests to delay would not encourage such support.