Tony Karon writes: It has become an article of faith among Israeli leaders and their neoconservative partners in Washington that the only way Iran can be persuaded to back down in the nuclear standoff is if Tehran believes it’s in real danger of being bombed. Hence the relentless war drums pounded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, despite the obvious misgivings of the Obama administration.
Mr Barak last week told a TV interviewer that Israel didn’t want to start a war with Iran, but that Iran may leave it no choice (although he offered no benchmarks for this assessment). Mr Netanyahu, meanwhile, offered a somewhat clumsy parable about Israel’s founder, David Ben Gurion, making decisions that went against the best advice he was getting, and in so doing ensuring Israel’s creation. The subtext: just because everyone’s telling me bombing Iran is a really stupid idea doesn’t mean I won’t do it; history will absolve me.
But the dark warnings of Mr Netanyahu and Mr Barak notwithstanding, it’s obvious that Iran isn’t expecting to be bombed any time soon, much less planning to back down on its nuclear programme. On the contrary, Tehran remains as defiant as ever, even allowing itself such potentially reckless luxuries as playing out domestic political rivalries by sending militiamen to trash the British embassy. (That appears to have been the work of rivals to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). Iran also raised the ante with the United States, announcing it had brought down a surveillance drone that had crossed into Iranian territory from Afghanistan – signalling to its own public that Iran was under attack by the US and potentially raising a public clamour for retaliation. (By contrast, Iran had largely avoided acknowledging that recent explosions at a missile site and uranium conversion plant may have been the work of saboteurs, perhaps to avoid raising pressure to strike back).
On the whole, though, Iran’s regime doesn’t seem to be shrinking from confrontation with western powers and Israel. It may be strengthened politically by that confrontation, and it has reason to doubt any attack is imminent. Key figures in the security establishment in both the US and Israel are certainly pouring cold water on the “military option” bandied about by politicians and pundits.