Welcome to the Summer 2012 Please-Don't-Bomb-Iran Tour, starring the Obama Administration, now on stage in Jerusalem.
Last week, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns came to Israel to top-level consultations. The President's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, also dropped by for a visit. Hillary Clinton is scheduled to arrive in Israel about now. More visits from senior Administration officials are scheduled for later this month. The number of top American officials visiting Jerusalem is outmatched only by the number of American warships already in the Persian Gulf, or heading there now.
In other words, with Iran nuclear talks at an impasse, the Administration seems to believe that Israel may once again be gearing-up to launch a strike at Iran's nuclear facilities, perhaps later this summer. Last month, the Atlantic's Iran War panel, expertly organized by Dominic Tierney, placed the chances of an American or Israeli attack over the next year at 36 percent. I hope Dominic is organizing another poll of his expert panel, because, based on all of this activity, it seems as if 36 percent might be a slightly low number.
While we're on the subject, let me recommend Ari Shavit's recent interview with Giora Eiland, a retired general who is one of Israel's top defense strategists. Read the whole thing, but here is Eiland asking the Iran version of the Four Questions:
"On decision day, the political echelon must demand that the military echelon offer a firm and clear yes to each of the following four questions: 1. Is the intelligence we have good enough? Do we know exactly what is to be found where? 2. Can we bring a critical mass of an attack to the locations that intelligence is giving us? 3. Do we know for certain that the explosive materials the attack brings to the correct locations will indeed penetrate what they need to penetrate and cause significant damage? 4. Will the overall outcome of the attack cause the Iranian nuclear program to be halted? Will it buy us a window of time of at least a number of years?
Numbers one through three he believes Israeli military leaders can answer positively. On number four, he has his doubts, because "the question is not solely military, but military and diplomatic combined." Eiland goes on to say:
"If there is international support for an Israeli attack, Iran will find it very hard to rebuild its nuclear capability afterward. But if the Israel attack is perceived as rash and illegitimate, Iran will actually get a boost and will quickly attain military nuclear capability. If that happens, then the Israeli strike will end up hastening the assembly of the Iranian nuclear bomb. Israel will come out the loser on both ends."
I'm in the Meir Dagan camp on this one. The former Mossad chief believes that an Israeli attack would actually help Iran achieve nuclear weapons status. Here is what I wrote about a recent interview with Dagan:
... (W)hat angers him most is what he sees as a total lack of understanding on the part of the men who lead the Israeli government about what may come the day after an Israeli strike. Some senior Israeli officials have argued to me that a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities might actually trigger the eventual downfall of the regime. Dagan predicts the opposite: "Judging by the war Iran fought against Iraq, even people who supported the Shah, even the Communists, joined hands with (Ayatollah) Khomeini to fight Saddam," he said, adding, "In case of an attack, political pressure on the regime will disappear. If Israel will attack, there is no doubt in my mind that this will also provide them with the justification to go ahead and move quickly to nuclear weapons." He also predicted that the sanctions program engineered principally by President Obama may collapse as a result of an Israeli strike, which would make it easier for Iran to obtain the material necessary for it to cross the nuclear threshold.