Commentary Magazine


Contentions

The Gathering Storm

If Iran continues with its nuclear-weapons program, and Israel takes the decision to strike before the ayatollahs acquire an actual bomb, what would be the likely timing of an Israeli action?

We have asked that question here before, and noted that Iran was acquiring long-range, highly advanced surface-to-air missiles, the Russian SA-20, that would greatly complicate an aerial assault. Since the missiles will start becoming operational this fall, Israel would be under pressure to act before or around that time.

An additional factor in the Israeli calculation might well be the U.S. elections. The Israelis would have good reason to believe that the U.S. under George W. Bush would be more supportive of their action than either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, both of whom might have serious reservations about the use of force.

John McCain, who has said that the only thing worse than a U.S. strike on Iran would be an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons, would obviously be more sympathetic to Israel’s position. But the Israelis can hardly count on his victory in the presidential contest. Waiting until after the U.S. elections would seem to add risk to risk.

Which brings us to the news that Israel’s security cabinet yesterday authorized the distribution of gas masks to its entire population. The last such distribution came just before the U.S. attack on Iraq four years ago.

What does the decision mean?