Is Israel Preparing an October Surprise?

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The prominent Israeli commentator Amnon Abramovich argues that Prime Minister Netanyahu's decision to go for early electons -- now scheduled for September 4 -- means that Netanyahu (and his defense minister, Ehud Barak), will still have plenty of time to launch a preemptive strike before the American presidential election in early November:

After the September elections, which all polls show Netanyahu winning easily, he will head a transition government for several weeks while a new coalition is formed. During that period, Netanyahu "will not be beholden to the voters," and will be free to take decisions on Iran that many Israelis might not support, Abramovich said....

And finally, said Abramovich, the September-October period would see Obama, who has publicly urged more patience in allowing diplomacy and sanctions to have their impact on Iran, in the final stages of the presidential election campaign, with a consequent reduced capacity to try to pressure Israel into holding off military intervention.

Obama, "on the eve of elections, won't dare criticize Israel," said Abramovich. From Netanyahu's point of view, "the conditions would be fantastic."

Seems doubtful to me, for what it's worth. Too many moving parts, too many risks involved -- Netanyahu doesn't like risk (especially when compared to his militarily adventurous predecessors) and the timeline is very short. It's hard to believe he would order a (cataclysmic, IMO) strike on Iran while trying to build a governing coalition for his next term.  I also tend to think he would not order a strike during Obama's second term, should Obama win reelection. Abramovich is right that Obama would have a hard time being critical of Israel before the upcoming American election. But he would be freer to punish Israel after. What I wouldn't rule out is a Netanyahu-ordered strike before he goes to elections. Not immediately -- he needs to see what America can accomplish in the upcoming negotiations with Iran (my prediction: nothing much), but sometime after that, especially if intelligence suggests that Iran is moving centrifuges into the hardened facility at Fordow at a more rapid clip. But an October surprise? Not probable. 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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