Small window of opportunity for a strike on Iran
If recent reports of a Netanyahu promise to postpone an attack on Iran until the fall are true, a possible strike would correspond with the pivotal weeks just before the American presidential election.
The headline of today's Maariv is extremely important, if true. It quotes American officials who say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised not to carry out an attack on Iran before the fall.
Since most military analysts believe that Israel would almost certainly prefer to carry out a complex and difficult long-range attack on Iran in a period when the skies above the target are cloudless, that either means Israel has agreed to postpone the potential strike for at least another eleven months or that the window of opportunity is open now for September or October. In other words, during the crucial final stages of the American presidential elections campaign.
This seems to be the fear of Maariv's un-named administration sources, complaining that "Netanyahu refused to commit that Israel would not attack Iran before the elections in November 2012 and agreed to wait with a military operation only until the fall."
According to the paper, Netanyahu's reasoning is that "after fall, the Iranian nuclear installations will be in 'the immunity zone' from an Israeli strike and Israel will lose its independence to decide on military action."
We have no way of verifying this report but it does tally with what Barack Obama said two months ago - "I don't think that Israel has made a decision on what they need to do." And of course, it fits in with Netanyahu's tendency to play the internal American political arena.
Announcing that Israel may decide to attack Iran at the worst possible political timing puts pressure on Obama, and could potentially lead to some valuable American concessions to Israel, in exchange for an eventual commitment not to strike.
On the other hand, it could be a double-edged sword should Obama go on to win the elections in November, as the latest polls suggest.
Meanwhile, a comprehensive report in Sunday's Washington Post on America's intelligence operations within and regarding Iran seems to be intended, at least partly, to allay Israeli fears that a lack of accurate intelligence could allow Iran to quietly slip into the nuclear realm, as North Korea did in October 2006 when it shocked the world with its first nuclear test. It would seem that the report is directed at Iran to warn them that "we know what you are up to."
The unusually frank and open discussion by intelligence and administration officials on the apparently successful U.S. efforts and to penetrate the secret Persian kingdom was aimed at pressing this message:
"White House officials contend that Iran’s leaders have not decided to build a nuclear weapon, and they say it would take Iran at least a year to do so if it were to launch a crash program now. 'Even in the absolute worst case — six months — there is time for the president to have options,' said the senior U.S. official, one of seven current or former advisers on security policy who agreed to discuss U.S. options on Iran on the condition of anonymity."
On the tail of the long report, there was a very interesting detail – that despite the capture of one of the U.S.'s ultra-secret RQ-170 surveillance drones that fell in Iran four months ago and was displayed on Iranian television, the "Beast of Kandahar" is still silently overflying Iran, escaping radar detection.
At the time, the Iranians claimed that they had managed to penetrate the drone's control system, take it over and land it. I recently asked one of Israel Air Force's veteran drone experts if this was at all possible and he said that "it is virtually impossible. As humiliating as that was for the Americans, losing control of an unmanned plane, especially when it is on a long-range mission, far away from any of your bases, is not a rare occurrence."