On Predictions and Deadlines: Why Israel Never Bombs Iran
Yesterday Peter Robinson pointed to an article in the New York Times Magazine on that putative airstrike on Iran that never quite seems to happen. Remember that American political commentators predicted that President George W. Bush would launch a strike on Iran before he left office. The two most prominent, John and Norman Podhoretz, issued these pronouncements in 2006 and 2008, respectively, but speculation was widespread.
The article reports:
At that point Barak leaned forward and said with the utmost solemnity: “And if a nuclear Iran covets and occupies some gulf state, who will liberate it? The bottom line is that we must deal with the problem now.”
He warned that no more than one year remains to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weaponry.
But Israeli leaders have often spoken of the "point of no return," by which Iran would possess the capability to produce nuclear weapons. In January 2005, they said 12 months; in December 2005, they said 2-4 years; in November 2006, they said less than 2 years; in January 2009, they said 14 months.
Predictions have also repeatedly been made that Israel was about to strike. John Bolton warned in August 2010 that Tel Aviv had just days before it would be too late, for instance, and Jeffrey Goldberg speculated in 2010 that the strike would come in April 2011.
Everybody assumes it's just a question of Israeli political will. There is something to that, since any operation would be extremely high-risk and we know that the Israelis value their servicemen's lives extremely highly; after all, they traded 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for a single IDF soldier.
But every sensible analysis of a putative strike comes down to flight path, logistics, and the probability of mission success. Overflight rights are tricky (and actually do matter in the real world), the logistics are near impossible (with Israel's lack of aerial refueling capability), and the probability of mission success is extremely low (given Iran's air defenses and the dispersed nature of its nuclear program).
In the end, this may be a question of how, not when.