1. If the Israelis do nothing, they know that they would eventually be staring at an internally unstable, virulently anti-Semitic, terrorist-fond regime with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Simply imagining the probable hair-trigger scenarios in which Israel will have to play atomic-bluff with Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard Corps -- the organization that oversees Iran's nuclear program -- ought to be enough to make any rational nuclear planner shudder. For the first time ever, the same organization that has been responsible for all of the Islamic Republic's terrorist liaison relationships -- including an operationally supportive relationship with al-Qaeda after the 1998 Africa embassy bombings, according to the 9/11 Commission Report -- would control nuclear weapons. Then imagine other Middle Eastern regimes, especially the Saudi state, built upon Wahhabism, also acquiring the bomb in order to counter Iranian Shiite power -- and you can see why the nerves of any Israeli nuclear planner have to be fried.
2. What the Israelis need to do is change this dynamic. A preventive strike offers them the only conceivable alternative for doing so. Any bombing run will, at least temporarily, shock the international system and rock Iran internally.
3. The Israelis will have shown that they are deadly serious about confronting the Iranian nuclear threat, that they are willing to go on a permanent war-footing with the Islamic Republic and its deadliest ally, the Hizbollah, which will probably unleash rocket hell on Israel in turn. Although President Obama may become (privately) furious with the Israelis, any Israeli strike will make the United States, and probably even the reluctant Europeans, more determined to shut down Iran's program.
4. If Khamenei and the Guard Corps respond to an Israeli strike with terrorism, which is likely, then they could well put themselves into a strategic cul-de-sac, especially if they strike out against American targets or do something truly stupid, like trying to shut down the Strait of Hormuz.
We've got at least a 51 percent chance that the Israelis will strike by next summer. If they do, Israeli pilots will unlikely be flying with the conviction that they can end the Iranian nuclear menace forever. But they will, no-doubt, be hoping that, with some luck, they can change a nuclear equation that will otherwise put atomic weapons in the hands of a regime that holds international conferences denying the Holocaust's existence, while arming and funding those who strive for Israel's annihilation.
Should Israel Bomb Iran?
There is only one thing that terrifies Washington’s foreign policy establishment more than the prospect of an American airstrike against Iran’s nuclear-weapons facilities: an Israeli airstrike. Left, right, and center, “sensible” people view the idea with alarm. Such an attack would, they say, do great damage to the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Tehran would counterattack, punishing “the Great Satan” (America) for the sins of “the Little Satan” (Israel). An Israeli strike could lead to the closing of the world’s oil passageway, the Strait of Hormuz; prompt Muslims throughout the world to rise up in outrage; and spark a Middle Eastern war that might drag in the United States. Barack Obama’s “New Beginning” with Muslims, such as it is, would be over the moment Israeli bunker-busting bombs hit.
An Israeli “preventive” attack, we are further told, couldn’t possibly stop the Islamic Republic from developing a nuke, and would actually make it more likely that the virulently anti-Zionist supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, would strike Israel with a nuclear weapon. It would also provoke Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to deploy its terrorist assets against Israel and the United States. Hezbollah, the Islamic Revolution’s one true Arab child, would unleash all the missiles it has imported from Tehran and Damascus since 2006, the last time the Party of God and the Jewish state collided.
An Israeli preemptive strike unauthorized by Washington (and President Barack Obama is unlikely to authorize one) could also severely damage Israel’s standing with the American public, as well as America’s relations with Europe, since the “diplomacy first, diplomacy only” Europeans would go ballistic, demanding a more severe punishment of Israel than Washington could countenance. The Jewish state’s relations with the European Union—Israel’s major trading partner—could collapse. And, last but not least, an Israeli strike could fatally compromise the pro-democracy Green Movement in Iran, which is the only hope the West has for an end to the nuclear menace by means of regime change. This concern was expressed halfheartedly before the tumultuous Iranian elections of June 12, 2009, but it is now voiced with urgency by those who truly care about the Green Movement spawned by those elections and don’t want any American or Israeli action to harm it.
These fears are mostly overblown. Some of the alarmist scenarios are the opposite of what would more likely unfold after an Israeli attack. Although dangerous for Israel, a preventive strike remains the most effective answer to the possibility of Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards having nuclear weapons. Provided the Israeli air force is capable of executing it, and assuming no U.S. military action, an Israeli bombardment remains the only conceivable means of derailing or seriously delaying Iran’s nuclear program and—equally important—traumatizing Tehran. Since 1999, when the supreme leader quashed student demonstrations and put paid to any chance that the Islamic Republic would peacefully evolve under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami, Iran has calcified into an ever-nastier autocracy. An Israeli strike now—after the rise of the Green Movement and the crackdown on it—is more likely to shake the regime than would have a massive American attack in 2002, when Tehran’s clandestine nuclear program was first revealed. And if anything can jolt the pro-democracy movement forward, contrary to the now passionately accepted conventional wisdom, an Israeli strike against the nuclear sites is it.
There are many voices out there—“realists” in America, Kantians in Europe—who believe this discussion is unnecessary since Iran doesn’t really pose an existential threat to Israel, America, or anyone else, and whatever threat it does pose can be countered with “strategic patience” and the threat of Israeli nuclear retaliation. Tehran may support anti-Israeli terrorist groups, but there is no need to overreact: The regime is as scared of Israel’s military power as Israel is scared of mullahs with nukes. America’s preeminent job should therefore be to calm the Israelis down—or, failing that, arm-twist them into inaction.