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The mood in Jerusalem is hardening as Israel is running out of time to decide whether or not to launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites, reports Michael Stott of Reuters. Despite heavy international pressure, Iran continues to enrich uranium for what it says are peaceful purposes while Israel and the West worry that Tehran is trying to build a nuclear weapon.
Experts told Reuters that most of Iran’s nuclear program — which Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers an existential threat to the state of Israel — will be buried deep underground within a few months, thereby making a strike even riskier and more difficult than it already is.
Consequently, Netanyahu’s government is on lockdown — recent public pronouncements are no longer warning of a strike but instead are reiterating President Barack Obama’s position that diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions should be given time to work.
But Netanyahu has also been making moves to consolidate power: last week he reached a deal to join forces with the opposition Kadima party and its Iranian-born leader Gen. Shaul Mofaz, which gives the coalition 94 out of 120 in the Knesset (i.e. Israel’s house of representatives).
The move concerns American officials who were expecting Israeli elections in September because now there is little to stop Netanyahu from ordering an attack.
Nevertheless Netanyahu seems to have American support as U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro told Israeli Army radio this week that the option of using preemptive military force against Iran is “ready” and “fully available” (despite the fact that the action would be a violation of U.S. and international law).
At least one senior Israeli official thinks that Netanyahu has already made a decision.
“I think they have made a decision to attack,” said one senior Israeli figure with close ties to the leadership. “It is going to happen. The window of opportunity is before the U.S. presidential election in November. This way they will bounce the Americans into supporting them.”
Many military analysts believe that the only way to effectively hinder Iran’s nuclear program is with the full help of the U.S. military, but President Obama reportedly promised Netanyahu essential military equipment only if he agreed to postpone an attack until after the U.S. elections.
The implications of Netanyahu’s decision are enormous because an U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran would undoubtedly rattle the entire Middle East and could bring unintended and devastating consequences, such as retaliations from Iran’s proxy militias in Lebanon (i.e. Hezbollah) and the Gaza strip (i.e. Hamas) who have rockets that could reach major Israeli cities.
From a Reuters story in February:
“America knows that if there is a war on Iran, this means that the whole region will be set alight, with no limit to the fires,” Hezbollah deputy Sheikh Naim Qassem told Reuters… “Israel could start a war … but it does not know the scale of the consequences and it is incapable of controlling them.”
It seems that Obama’s preferences are in direct contrast with Netanyahu’s reality, putting the commander in chief in a very difficult position.