A US pre-emptive attack on Iran is out of the question now, but will Israel start war on its own hoping that the US will support them once war is underway?
The signals coming out of Israel over the last few days with regard to it’s position on Iran have become clear and almost explicit – Israel is gearing up to make a pre-emptive attack against Iran, and possibly Syria.
The recent demise of Republican power in Congress after the mid-term elections and the recommendations of the influential Iraq Study Group under the co-chair of James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton about having both Iran and Syria involved in negotiations to find a resolution to the turmoil in Iraq, has all but ruled out the US being involved in any pre-emptive attack against Iran. However, it would not preclude US involvement if the Israelis were to instigate an attack to which Iran retaliates with an attack on both Israeli and US interests in the Gulf or if Israel asks for US assistance if, say, Iran attacked the Israeli homeland with missiles.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the press on board his jet as he was on his way to the US that “…Iran must understand that if they do not accept the request of the international community, they’re going to pay dearly.” An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, is reported to have responded: “If Israel takes such a stupid step and attacks, the answer of Iran and its Revolutionary Guard will be rapid, firm and destructive and it will be given in a few seconds.” Such a ‘rapid, firm and destructive’ response would undoubtedly draw the US into the conflict.
On Monday, 13 November, Olmert met with Bush for 50 minutes of private talk as well as other talks with their senior staff present. Bush spouted his usual rhetoric after the talks saying that Iran should ‘give up its nuclear ambitions’, that the ‘world should unite with one common voice’ and that Iran should be ‘isolated if it does not respond’ and that there would be ‘economic isolation’. But, while Bush fell short of threatening to take military steps to stop Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, Olmert was less conciliatory saying: “ Iran needs to understand that there will be consequences for not agreeing to a compromise”, adding ominously that: “I can’t say what the consequences will be…” Olmert went on to say that he was willing to give the idea of talks between Iran and the US on the subject of uranium enrichment a go but, since Iran is unlikely to give up its enrichment program, Israel will not be holding its breath on the outcome of such talks.
In other indicators of Israel’s impatience to bring on the final confrontation with Iran, Tzipi Livni, Israel’s Foreign Minister, also visiting the US, told an audience of the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Los Angeles that Iran was less than two years away from reaching what she termed the ‘point of no return’, a point, she said, where Iran did not actually have nuclear weapons but where Iran no longer needed outside help in order to produce a nuclear weapon. She added, however, “Iran denies the Holocaust and seeks the weapons to perpetrate one. If the promise of ‘Never Again’ supersedes the price of oil then the time for international indifference and hesitation in the face of the Iranian threat has long passed.”
The Israeli military is also making noises about being prepared for ‘full-scale war’ against both Iran and Syria. An Israeli military official has said that: “The challenge from Iran and Syria is now top of the Israeli defense agenda, higher than the Palestinian one.”
It is now all but impossible for Bush to be part of a pre-emptive attack on Iran, but the changed circumstances in the US now leaves Israel, knowing the US are no longer able to act, free to take matters in to their own hands.
If Olmert and Livni have received the assurances they need from Bush that, if push comes to shove the US will come to the Israelis aid once they have got their war underway, then one need ask not so much ‘if’ Israel will attack Iran but ‘when’.
 ‘Iraq Study Group’, United States Institute of Peace, November 2006. Available online: http://www.usip.org/isg/ Accessed 14 November 2006.
 Aluf Benn, ‘Olmert hints at possible military action against Iran”, Ha’aretz, 13 November 2006. No longer available online. Hard copy accessed 13 November 2006.
 Herb Keinon, ‘Bush: Nuclear Iran ‘very destabilizing’’, Jerusalem Post, 13 November 2006. Available online: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1162378386632&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull Accessed 14 November 2006.
 Amir Mizroch, ‘Livni to ‘Post’: Iran nearing the point of no return’’, Jerusalem Post, 13 November 2006. Available online: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?c=JPArticle&cid=1162378384729&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull Accessed 14 November 2006.
 ‘Israel must prepare for full-scale war’, Jerusalem Post, 12 November 2006. Available online: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1162378379290&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull Accessed 13 November 2006.