Bet on Israel bombing Iran | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED


Bet on Israel bombing Iran

Are we going to have an October surprise, an attack on Iran by either the Bush administration or by Israel to stop the regime from becoming a nuclear power?

It could happen - and alter the dynamics of the presidential race in the blink of an eye - but only if Israel pulls the trigger. Don't expect the United States to drop bombs anytime soon. The reason: Iran has us over a barrel.

According to Britain's Guardian newspaper, Bush earlier this year nixed an Israeli plan to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Reportedly, the President said no because we couldn't afford Iranian retaliation against our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan or Iran closing down Persian Gulf shipping. Nonetheless, cynical speculation is now swirling in some quarters that with the financial collapse working against McCain - and Bush's legacy coming into focus - the President might reconsider. Could that tail really wag the dog?

Probably not. The fundamental global power dynamics have not changed. Iran has successfully blackmailed us. Iranian Silkworm missiles could close down Gulf oil exports in a matter of minutes, taking about 17 million barrels a day of oil off world markets. Americans could suddenly be looking at the prospect of $10-$12 for a gallon of gas. If the collapse of Wall Street doesn't push us into a depression, that would. And Bush is right: An angered Iran could punish us with thousands of extra casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, as Iranian-trained, armed and funded fighters flow back into the war zones with a vengeance.

So, giving the go ahead to Israel would just not be worth it.

But none of this changes the fact that Israel - on its own, without U.S. complicity - is moving closer to a decision to attack Iran, almost by the day.

What many Americans miss is that Iran is a threat to Israel's very existence, not an imagined danger used by politicians for political advantage. Every Israeli city is within range of Iranian/Hezbollah rockets. To make matters worse, since the July 2006 34-day war, Hezbollah may have as much as trebled the number of rockets it has targeted on Israel.

Meantime, Hezbollah has become the de facto state in Lebanon. And lest we forget, Israel lost that July 2006 war to Hezbollah, pulling its troops out of Lebanon without having obtained a single objective. In other words, Israel no longer has its deterrence credibility, the fear that it can decisively retaliate against its enemies.

Israel knows that international diplomacy against Iran up until now has been a farce. Iran called Bush's bluff, ignored sanctions and continued its nuclear program with impunity. And if the Israelis needed another psychological kick in the pants, last week North Korea announced that it is back to building a bomb, likewise with impunity.

Finally, Israel has to calculate that American influence around the world is on the wane. Americans are tired of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now, after the war in Georgia, Russia is opening up its flow of weapons to Iran.

Couple all of this with Israel's suspicion that Iran is within only a few short years of having a nuclear bomb, and Israel knows time is not on its side. It is starting to believe that it has no choice but to change its fortunes with arms.

This much is certain. Whether the President is named Bush, McCain or Obama, he will either have to prepare for war in the Gulf or find a way to bring Iran back into the nation-state system. The day of reckoning is near.

I myself think a deal can be cut with Iran. During the last 30 years, Iran has gone from a terrorist, revolutionary power to far more rational, calculating regional hegemon. Its belligerence today has more to do with a weakened United States and Israel than with any plans to start World War III.

The question is what price Iran would exact for a settlement. Or more to the point: Would we prefer to take our chances with an Israeli surprise?

Baer, a former CIA case officer, is author of the just-released "The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower."

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