The new U.S. intelligence report on Iran’s nuclear program backs Israel’s assessments that Iran is operating with greater determination than anticipated to advance its nuclear project. The “there is time” argument espoused by the Americans, most Europeans, and a number of Israelis such as ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan, is no longer a practical card in the diplomatic and political mind games of all those involved in the effort to block Tehran. There is no time, or as it was put by one government minister, there is less time than previously thought.
The dilemma facing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is similar to that faced by a driver speedily approaching traffic lights at an intersection: to stop on yellow and wait for an opportune moment to restart the nuclear program, with the risk that drivers from neighboring cars will get out and stop Iran, or to step on the pedal to cross the intersection on red, risking a head-on collision.
The first option means slowing down while maneuvering to thwart the sanctions, which despite all the cracks are economically harming the government of ayatollahs. The other option is that sanctions will damage the economy in any case, so therefore its worthwhile to shorten the length of the punishment. Khamenei chose to cross on red.
With this data, it is unclear why the “world’s policeman” — as the U.S. president has been called — is increasing the pressure on Israel to avoid taking military action against Iran’s nuclear project. A poll released on Thursday shows that Americans are divided on the question of attacking Iran, with a modest majority supporting such a move. This majority increases somewhat when the question is whether Israel should take independent military action against Iran.
While there have been no undisciplined leaks from the U.S. government about internal differences of opinion, U.S. officials have not refrained from bringing to public attention differences in the approaches of the White House and the State Department. Therefore, while inconsistent facts have been published, they are true. Such as that Saudi Arabia threatened to intercept Israeli planes on the way to Iran and that Barack Obama will not stand on the sidelines if a fiery conflict erupts.
The U.S. government clearly fears a flare-up before the presidential election at the start of November. This was the motive for the recent airlift of U.S. officials to Israel urging restraint. On the other hand, it is also possible that if the U.S. strikes Iran’s nuclear program as late as possible before the election, Obama will get a boost in popularity and oil prices won’t rise high enough to endanger Obama’s re-election.
The internal debates within the U.S. and Israel — one must also add the crucial position of Europe, where opinions are also varied — are currently influencing conduct toward Iran more than the differences between the countries involved in stopping Iran. Time is short, the task is great, and the U.S. presidential election is approaching, but Jerusalem and Washington, as well as London, Berlin and Paris have not yet reached the final stretch of deciding whether to “bomb or be bombed.”