An Israeli attack on Iran? Not this year
Should Israel refrain from attacking Iran even though an attack would lift some of the existential threat? Or should it attack and turn itself into the world's enemy?
For a year now we've been waiting for the Iranian summer, counting the months and days, driving ourselves to distraction over whether to attack or not to attack. We were sure that in three and a half months, in the elections we had received as a gift, we would be able to decide whether there would be a war.
But suddenly the rug has been jerked out from under us, and instead of a government wrestling with the issue and seeking the voters' counsel, a giant steamroller is coming our way weighing 94 MKs. This steamroller is even a bigger threat than the Iranian threat. Lucky for us, it seems this deal that MK Shaul Mofaz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have peddled us also means something regarding Iran. Politicians who want to last don't go to war.
The first signal came when Defense Minister Ehud Barak hinted a few weeks ago that an Israeli attack must take the U.S. elections into account; this put the decision off until November. Then came a few more signs. Even the Iranians deemed the nuclear talks in Istanbul "an important step forward."
Representatives of the six countries discussing uranium enrichment, including the United States, were enthusiastic about Iran's flexibility. They were enthusiastic about Iran's lifting of the preconditions that had always served as a trip wire for dialogue with Iran. They were also impressed by Iran's willingness to discuss the extent of its uranium enrichment - to the point of agreeing to another round of talks this month in Baghdad.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Saheli has said that having taken "one step forward in the Istanbul meeting," there would be "several steps forward in Baghdad." True, it's too soon to hold our breath, but we haven't heard talk like this from Tehran for a long time.
Meanwhile, the election results in France and Greece are viewed with mixed feelings in Iran. France's Francois Hollande opposes military intervention in Iran, although he has repeatedly said he doesn't want Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.
Unlike conservative Nicolas Sarkozy - the ally of American conservatism a la George Bush and the leader who pushed for the attack on Libya - Hollande believes in calm relations between the European Union and Iran. Some of his political advisers are of Iranian extraction, and in general he opposes Sarkozy's aggressive policy, a policy German Chancellor Angela Merkel also subscribes to. Hollande's election could also mark the beginning of a rift in the EU's Iran policy.
Economically, the elections in France and Greece have cost Iran dearly. Oil prices fell this week by $3 a barrel, their lowest level since December, when Tehran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. And the crisis in Greece, along with the U.S. unemployment outlook, could point to even lower oil prices, eroding Iran's hopes to offset oil sanctions with hefty profits due to higher prices.
Iranian-European relations as they are, what's bad for Iran is good for Europe, and low oil prices are the only good news Greece and the EU can expect in the struggle to contain the European economic crisis. While Iran would certainly want Israel to continue making seismic waves in the region and threatening a war that would raise oil prices, the last thing Europe's frayed nerves need now is an Israeli announcement that it has set a date for an attack on Iran.
If the Iranian nuclear program is an existential threat to Israel, the price of oil is a strategic threat to the economy of Europe, which expects U.S. President Barack Obama to calm its ally down. After all, this is no small thing like a peace process or a halt to construction in the settlements. The stability of the world, that is, of its stock exchanges, depends on what Iran says and Israel does.
This pyramid of considerations will present Israel with the toughest dilemma: Should Israel refrain from attacking Iran even though an attack would lift some of the existential threat? (And top officials are quarreling over whether that threat really is existential.) Or should it attack and turn itself into the world's enemy? This decision will have to wait until the summer of 2013. But if a postponement is decided on, maybe there really is no urgent existential threat. Maybe it's just an illusion.