Israeli military chiefs and a number of strategic planners urged Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahyu and defense minister Ehud Barak this week to seize the moment and use the turmoil in Iran in the wake of the June 12 vote for president to quickly dispose of Iran's nuclear installations no later than the end of summer.
They advanced four arguments for the military option, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report:
1. The Iranian regime and military establishment – and even the powerful Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) – have been seriously weakened by the wave of protests and street riots. Popular discord has not left either the command level or the rank and file untouched. Behind the bravado of a large-scale air force maneuver at the height of the unrest, Iran's armed forces have been thrown off balance by the domestic political strife sweeping the Islamic Republic and are less attentive to their duties as defenders of the nation and its nuclear program.
From this point of view, there is no better time to wipe out Iran's nuclear facilities.
2. As its election troubles recede in time, so will the Islamic regime's predilection for military action strengthen against the external enemies they blame for those troubles.
The advocates of an immediate Israeli military operation cited the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's war council this week with his military and intelligence chiefs.
If Israel does not strike Iran now, Iran will beat it to the punch, they say.
Delayed US-Iranian dialogue frees Netanyahu from non-military commitment
3. They also cite US president Barack Obama willingness to leave the door open in principle to diplomacy for settling the dispute over Iran's drive for a nuclear weapon, but point out that even if these talks became feasible they would take months to get started. Therefore, Obama's promise to Netanyahu at their White House meeting to assess the progress of the US-Iranian dialogue by the end of 2009 – and then decide how to proceed – has been nullified by subsequent events, and the Israeli prime minister's pledge to hold off on military action until that assessment is no longer binding.
This offers Israel a window of opportunity, but there is no knowing how long it will remain open.
4. With policies in Washington and Iran in a state of flux, one thing is certain: Iran will use its window of opportunity to go full speed ahead with its nuclear plans.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report that many Revolutionary Guards circles are now saying that a nuclear-armed regime would not have suffered resistance over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election as president and neither would the US or Britain have ventured to whip up a mass anti-government movement. Possession of a nuke would have shielded the Islamic regime against external and internal hazards. Therefore, Iran's politicians and generals are urging the rapid completion of a nuclear weapon as an unparalleled bulwark for shoring up the regime's stability.
There is nothing the Obama administration is prepared to do in the coming months to stop this happening, it is argued. The only monkey wrench around to upset Iran's schemes is a possible Israeli strike.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources in Jerusalem report that the Israeli prime minister and defense minister have so far reserved judgment on a quick military strike against Iran. They are watching their political backs at home and keeping track of US Middle East policies as they evolve in the light of the continuing deterioration of relations with Iran.
US will not dump Israel ties for no gain
This week, Netanyahu and Barak detected a hairline fracture in Washington's immovable demand for a settlement construction freeze and a new tendency to avoid an open rift with Israel. Only a week ago, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel led the chorus which maintained that to purchase credibility in Tehran, the Obama administration must force the Netanyahu government to comply with this demand or face a showdown.
Monday, June 29, President Obama appeared to have instructed his envoy George Mitchell to show some flexibility when Barak and Netanyahu's special adviser Yitzhak Molcho flew into New York to thresh out the issue.
In the event, the issue was not settled but left open for Mitchell's next trip to Jerusalem later this month.
As matters stand in Washington today, another presidential change of heart is not ruled out.
But this week Obama found two good reasons why a confrontation with Israel would beundesirable at this juncture:
First: It was realized that if prime minister Netanyahu was to be held to his commitments, the administration must offer some slack on what some call its “absolutist” position on settlement construction. Above all, US officials must stop denying the existence of understandings with the Bush administration on limited expansion in the face of solid testimony to the contrary
Second: The White House is asking itself whether precipitating a crisis with Israel might not be counter-productive given the impasse with Iran.
And why quarrel with Israel when there is no hope of enlisting Tehran's help with Iraq and Afghanistan and the moderate Arab states refuse to meet Israel's concessions halfway with gestures of their own? (See HOT POINTS of June 30).