Israel did not bomb Iran last year. Why should it happen this year?
Because it did not happen last year. The Iranians are proceeding apace with their nuclear program. The Americans are determined to stop them. Sanctions are biting, but the diplomatic process produced nothing visible in 2012. Knowledgeable observers believe there is no “zone of possible agreement.” Both the United States and Iran may believe that they have viable alternatives to a negotiated agreement.
While Israel has signaled that its “red line” (no nuclear weapons capability) won’t be reached before mid-2013, it seems likely it will be reached before the end of the year. President Barack Obama has refused to specify his red line, but he has made it amply clear that he prefers intensified sanctions and eventual military action to a nuclear Iran that needs to be contained and provides incentives for other countries to go nuclear. If and when he takes the decision for war, there is little doubt about a bipartisan majority in Congress supporting the effort.
Still, attitudes on the subject have shifted in the past year. Some have concluded that the consequences of war with Iran are so bad and uncertain that every attempt should be made to avoid it. Most have also concluded that Israel could do relatively little damage to the Iranian nuclear program. It might even be counter-productive, as the Iranians would redouble their efforts. The military responsibility lies with President Obama.
There has been a recent flurry of hope that the Iranians are preparing to come clean on their past nuclear weapons activities, which could be a prelude to progress on the diplomatic track. The issue is allegedly one of timing and sequencing: the Iranians want sanctions relief up front. The Americans want to see enrichment to 20 percent stopped and the enriched material shipped out of the country, as well as a full accounting for past activities, before considering any but minor sanctions relief. Some would also like to see dismantling of the hardened enrichment plant at Fordow.
But the fundamental issue is whether Iran is prepared to give up its nuclear weapon ambitions, or whether it is determined to forge ahead. Iranian behavior in the last year suggests no let-up in the country’s regional (and wider) pretensions. It has supported Bashar al-Assad to the hilt in Syria, armed Hamas for its confrontation with Israel, continued to support Hezbollah in Lebanon, assisted North Korea’s ballistic missile satellite launch and made trouble in Iraq. Why would it not also seek nuclear weapons, which would make it immune (or so many in the Iranian regime seem to think) from American regime change efforts?