From Tuesday's edition of the Glasgow, Scotland, Herald. The paper's defense correspondent, Ian Bruce, has details on Israeli plans to launch a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Sources tell Mr. Bruce that the raid could be carried out by early March--before the Israeli elections.
This story has made the rounds repeatedly in recent months. But Mr. Bruce's account appears more credible than other stories on the subject, most notably a recent report in the Jerusalem Post. For one thing, the Herald story doesn't appear to be based on second and third-hand information. Additionally, Mr. Bruce's report contains a key detail that mirrors recent intelligence reporting on the subject. And no, I won't say what that detail is.
However, I still believe the chances of an Israeli strike (over the near term) are slight, unless Tel Aviv receives clear, unambiguous evidence that Iran has--or is about to acquire--working nuclear weapons. The consequences of an Israeli attack would be monumental--for Israel, the U.S. and the entire region. An Israeli strike on Tehran's nuclear sites could well be followed by an Iranian strike on Israel's population centers, using a SHAHAB-3 missile carrying biological or chemical weapons. Assuming that an Iranian warhead gets through Israel's missile defenses (and inflicts heavy casualties), the Israelis would likely respond in kind, or up the ante and go nuclear. The pressure on an Israeli Prime Minister to respond to an Iranian missile attack would be overwhelming, and quite likely, irresistible.
How would the U.S. respond to these events? Officially, we're still backing European diplomatic efforts, despite long odds against success. However, in the event of an Israeli strike, Iran may force our hand; many analysts believe that Tehran would accuse the U.S. of complicity in the original Israeli attack, and launch their own strikes on American forces in Iraq. At that point, the Commander-in-Chief would have no other option but to defend our troops and other interests in the region.
It's a sobering scenario, to say the least. One final thought: as I've noted before, the Israelis are accomplished masters of military deception. They are quite capable of concealing attack preparations, preventing us (or anyone else) from discerning their plans. Put another way: our first indication of an Israeli attack may not occur until things start exploding in Iran.