And here I was working on a piece arguing that the new Israeli government either wants the United States to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities or else, more likely, implicit U.S. approval for Israel to do so itself. Jeffrey Goldberg just asked Bibi Netanyahu:
In an interview conducted shortly before he was sworn in today as prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu laid down a challenge for Barack Obama. The American president, he said, must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons—and quickly—or an imperiled Israel may be forced to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities itself. [...]
Neither Netanyahu nor his principal military advisers would suggest a deadline for American progress on the Iran nuclear program, though one aide said pointedly that Israeli time lines are now drawn in months, “not years.” These same military advisers told me that they believe Iran’s defenses remain penetrable, and that Israel would not necessarily need American approval to launch an attack. “The problem is not military capability, the problem is whether you have the stomach, the political will, to take action,” one of his advisers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told me.
To make just a quick point, the idea that Israel would be “forced” to bomb Iran is laughable; people shouldn’t write stuff like that. It’s possible that Israel will bomb Iran in the near future, but nobody’s going to force them to do it.
As for needing American approval, I suppose this all comes down to what we mean by “necessarily” “need” and “approval.” You can’t fly from Israel to Iran without going over Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or Iraq and every discussion of this I’ve ever heard specifically says the Israelis would need to go through Iraq. It would of course be possible for Israel to do that without American approval. But none of those three countries would conceivably give Israel permission to use their airspace for this mission and the United States is committed to the defense of all three. In practice, the fact of an Israeli attack would be read throughout the region as proof of an American green light, especially were the attack not swiftly followed-up by a sharp curtailment of American aid. And for Americans, that’s really the point—as long as Israel is the biggest winner in the U.S. aid sweepstakes, Israeli actions are inevitably seen as the actions of American proxies, and if we can’t get Israel to respect our interests then we need to revisit that relationship.
Alex Massie observes that Netanyahu’s argument that Iran’s willingness to sustain large casualties in the face of Iraqi aggression during the Iran-Iraq war demonstrates that the Iranian regime is made up of undeterrable madmen doesn’t make much sense.