The American trigger finger is itchy. Itchy, but flinching - the wallet is emptier than the magazine. Iran is provoking. It is pressing ahead with its nuclearization and upping the rate of its assaults on U.S. forces in Iraq, as well as their lethality.
To this end, Iran is enlisting the help of local Iraqi organizations that receive equipment, training and guidance from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds force; and it is using them to strike at the rearguard of the American forces, which are supposed to be leaving Iraq by the end of the year.
Iran wants to depict the planned U.S. withdrawal as a frightened escape under fire (in the same vein as the withdrawal of American forces from Lebanon following the terror attack on the Marines headquarters in Beirut in 1983 ); it wants to push pro-Iranian political elements into putting pressure on the Iraqi government not to ask the Americans to extend their stay in the country - a move that would require legislation to grant immunity to the foreign forces. Once forces do leave, it wants to make sure Tehranian influence is supreme.
During a recent Congressional hearing, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who will take over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the end of September, warned that the nuclearization and indirect assaults on the U.S. forces in southern Iraq could lead Tehran to err gravely in underestimating America's determination to mount a strike against Iran.
But Dempsey also advocated caution. He stressed that he preferred the path of sanctions and diplomacy and would advise the president to launch a preemptive attack only in the event of a clear and present threat - to a high degree of certainty - of an Iranian strike against vital U.S. national interests.
Dempsey's statements appeared to indicate that based on the current pace of Iran's nuclearization - without any weapons development or the transferal of arms to a terror organization - such conditions have yet to be met. A preemptive strike, as far as Dempsey is concerned, must be focused, must serve a broad political initiative involving America's allies, and must rely on a broad plan for the period following the operation.
Under the current economic and political circumstances, the Obama administration will not be in any hurry to do Israel a favor and pull the nuclear chestnuts out the Iranian fire by means of a preemptive strike against Tehran's nuclear facilities, material storage locations and missile sites.
America's national debt crisis and Pentagon budget cuts are pushing to the margins emergency plans for an operation against Iran.
Ehud Barak got this message during his meetings in Washington last week with senior administration officials: While discussing the goings on in the region, their minds were clearly more focused on more worrying and pressing matters at home.
When it comes to a choice between nuclear and deficit, deterrence and austerity, economics wins out. Security can wait.
Obama's hands are tied by the economic and leadership crises. He will not embark on a head-on collision course with Iran, aside from acute responses to the killing of his soldiers.
Election season looms; his personal approval rating has been compromised. With the list of tasks ahead topped by Al-Qaida, Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran will have to fight for a place between North Korea, Libya (where NATO appears to be treading water and getting nowhere ), Yemen and even Somalia.
According to the current head of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Michael Mullen, the U.S. national debt is the greatest security risk facing the country. This is an allusion to the direct blow to America's economic strength and the political implications of Obama's compromise with Congress that seeks to find the missing dollars in the Pentagon budget.
If indeed there is a certain degree of American deterrence against Iran, it is only enough to prevent Tehran from using nuclear arms, which it doesn't yet have. Activity in Iraq and the gradual progression to nuclearization is not being deterred.
On the eve of his retirement last week, Mullen's deputy, General James Cartwright, complained that the United States does not have non-nuclear arms that can be readily and reliably deployed within 24 hours. Conventional warheads are now being developed for the inter-continental ballistic missiles that fly fast and do not penetrate the airspace of countries whose consent may be required. Until then, for testing, they are using concrete warheads.
The scenario: Mass fatalities among U.S. soldiers in Iraq as a result of an attack by pro-Iranian forces leads to the launch of a concrete missile into the Iranian desert, as a final warning. But it won't be a precursor to the realization of the hopes of Barak and Netanyahu - just a meager and cheap substitute, in the spirit of the times.
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