A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Israel and Iran: Is the Danger Past?

I'm back from vacation and my pre-written postings are over; my comments may be brief (or mostly links) for a few days while I catch up on the day job. A lot has been  going on  — Iran and Israel as always; the debate over Syrian chemical weapons; Egypt in Sinai; Syria spilling over into Lebanon — and I can't cover it all. Let's start with Iran and Israel. Shai Feldman had a piece on Monday in which he claimed "The Israeli Debate on Attacking Iran is Over." The open opposition of Israeli President Shion Peres, who departed from the traditinal apolitical stance of the Presidency to wield his influence as Israel's eldest elder statesman and longtime defense expert is just one of the turning points Feldman identifies.

I'm a bit less confident that Netanyahu has realized he lacks the national consrnsus to go forward; like Gary Sick's earlier "Please Exhale" article, which concluded that an attack would be a disaster for the region, and not least for Israel, there is still the nagging possibility that it might occur, that the inner logic and dynamic has taken control. Shaul Mofaz' recent diatribe against Netanyahu and Barak explicitly drew links to the US election campaign, and there may be pressure to do something in case an Obama re-election pre-empts Israel's freedom of action. (Or is perceived to do so.) The old specter in US electoral politics of an "October surprise" could tempt Netanyahu to action,though we might see even more open opposition from military and intelligence professionals.

While I suspect Feldman, Sick and others are right that the balance is shifting against an attack (if it ever really favored one), and if it does come it will be the most telegraphed "surprise attack" in history, I'm still a bit nervous. There are too many loose cannon flailing about (Syria, Hizbullah, Iran's own divided leadership) to rest confident that the danger is past.

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