Commentary Magazine


Olmert and Iran

Everybody’s talking about a possible Israeli strike on Iran — which makes me think it won’t happen. You see, in Israel for the last couple of years, it has usually paid to be a contrarian. If everyone thinks the government’s about to fall (as did I, several times, in the last couple of months), there’s a decent chance it won’t. If you think Israel’s going to war in Lebanon and will not stop until it achieves its goals — well, it probably will stop after all.

There is no question that an attack on Iran by Israel would really not suit Washington too well. It’s too close to the election, and it’s something of a foregone conclusion that the last thing any American administration wants in it waning months is a sudden middle-east conflagration, a radical dose of instability that is far more likely to hurt the incumbents’ party than help. So we should not be surprised if we start hearing all sorts of grumblings from the Pentagon, such as the quip by Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Middle East “is a very unstable part of the world and I don’t need it to be more unstable.”

There’s a limit to what Washington can really do to prevent an Israeli strike if Israel really feels that Iran is about to cross the nuclear Rubicon. But it’s a fairly high limit, and we’re nowhere near it yet. Olmert’s government is highly susceptible to pressure right now, and upsetting the American-Israeli alliance requires an awful lot of political capital in Israel — capital Olmert no longer has.

So, as much as I am convinced that Iran must be stopped, if I had to bet, I’d say nothing’s happening before November — no matter how many exercises the IAF carries out between now and then. And after the election? Well, that’s another matter altogether.