When I did my first story about Israeli capabilities for striking Iran's nuclear sites it was 2006 and the consensus view was that Israel might well try a strike someday but probably not just yet.
The focus of my story then was an interesting paper by two MIT grad students about Israeli's strike capabilities. How things have changed.
Today, time is short. The Israeli press reports that a decision must be made by spring next year . By then, the Jerusalem Post says, "Israel will know the results of the dialogue between the world's leading powers and Iran that is scheduled to begin on October 1, as well as whether the world will impose real, tough sanctions."
Saudi Arabia is reported to have given Israel the green light to fly through its airspace during a raid against Iran. The Financial Times reported Tuesday that the Saudis are using their oil money to entice Russia into banning sales to Iran of advanced surface to air missile in return for an arms deal worth up to $11.1 billion that would include purchase of Russia's most advanced air defense system, the S-400.
All this comes in the wake of the allies’ declaration that Iran had developed a hidden site and not informed the International Atomic Energy Agency or anyone else about it.
Who could imagine Saudi giving Israel the green light to attack a fellow Muslim state? And how unlikely is the Saudis offer to buy lots of Russian gear to encourage Vladimir Putin to put a hold on selling to Iran? Of course, the Saudis would get one of the world's top air defense systems (just ask F-22 supporters) but they have traditionally given their business to the US, Britain and France. Imagine how excited the Russians must be with the prospect of sending lots of technicians into Saudi Arabia to spy -- I mean install and maintain the S-400 -- on the royal family and its military.
Does all this mean the Israelis are on the cusp of a strike -- or series of strikes -- against Iran? That is what the DIA and CIA folks are getting paid to assess and I don't frankly know much about our analysis of Israeli intent. But the public signs seem pretty clear that a strike has been planned and could be executed at any time, especially when you take into account the fact that senior Pentagon officials have been warning the Israelis against such a move and are privately deeply concerned that their message is not being taken as seriously as it might be.
Would Iran be quiescent in the wake of an Israeli strike? Or would the Persian nation rise up in anger and strike at US assets and allies? If I were ayatollah I would use Hezbollah to strike at Israeli and US targets, giving me a tiny bit of deniability. As long as Israeli intelligence was as thorough as usual and its pilots as effective and no particularly holy mosques or orphanages were destroyed, I think the Iranian reaction would be extremely loud but would not include overt Iranian military responses against the US. They might well try and fire some missiles at Israel but Iran’s conduct has been so deceitful that few countries would support an Iranian response.
Over the long haul, perhaps the hardest question to answer is how Iran’s people would respond. They might rise against their own regime on the basis that it could not protect them against Israel and had sullied their country's good name in the international community. After all, there is clear evidence of enormous discontent among the Iranians with their current rulers.
Or Israel and the great Satan might once again become arch foes of the largely Shi'a Persians. The US has labored mightily to let the world know that we publicly oppose an Israeli strike and prefer sanctions that might topple the regime, but the arc of crisis has never been known as a place where reason holds a tight grip on public sentiment. And an Israeli strike might be enough to drive its less rational actors to extreme measures. Of such judgments are careers made and broken, and history books written.