Will Israel Do It By Themselves?

It's hard to get a handle on it -- few Israelis are willing to talk about it on the record -- but there's been a palpable shift in thinking in Israel about launching an airstrike on Iran. Nowhere more than in the counter-terrorism community itself.

Even among the more reasoned -- and moderate -- voices there, the tone has moved from cautious optimism that an Israeli strike on Iran's uranium enrichment facilities could be avoided to gloomy inevitability.

"It's no longer a question of if but when," replied one Israeli analyst when asked if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would respond militarily if Iran crossed his "red lines" and acquired a nuclear bomb.

Several analysts ticked off different factors behind the change of heart:

  • A growing realization that sanctions -- no matter how robust -- won't stop Tehran from crossing Netanyahu's "red lines" and posing an existential threat to the nation.
  • Fueled by the Arab Spring, a sense of chaos swirling around Israel's borders has led Israelis to vote once again for the tough-minded Netanyahu  -- albeit in fewer numbers  -- and to sympathize with his hardline policy of protecting Israel at all costs, with walls, fences, and airstrikes, if necessary.
  • There was a belief  -- call it a hope  -- that Netanyahu would not "go it alone" against Iran  -- that President Barack Obama would prevail upon him to avoid any unilateral action that might trigger an unforeseen Arab conflagration against Israel. But some Israeli analysts say that Netanyahu seems much less worried than Obama about a lethal Arab response to an airstrike on Iran.

Only a few months ago the Israeli consensus on Iran felt much different. At the height of last fall's Iran-Israel crisis, former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak  -- once Netanyahu's boss in an elite commando unit  -- not only had the prime minister's ear, but seemed to counter his most hawkish impulses. Then, in late November, Barak quit the cabinet - and Israeli politics.

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Jim Maceda
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