These days, there is a growing sense—both within the Washington Beltway and beyond—that Israel could soon strike Iran to prevent it from going nuclear.
There is good reason to think that it will. Years of repeated efforts at "engagement" by the Obama administration have given Iran's ayatollahs precious time to add permanence to their nuclear effort. New and biting sanctions measures levied against Iran by the United States and its European allies in recent months have done little to dampen its desire for an atomic capability, at least so far. And U.S. assurances that a military option against Iran remains "on the table" ring exceedingly hollow amid growing signs of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East.
The weakness of Western policy, in turn, has forced hard choices upon Israel's leaders. Iran's radical regime has made no secret of its animus toward the Jewish state, or of its desire to—in the words of its firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—"wipe Israel from the map." Iran's expanding strategic capabilities, meanwhile, make it increasingly capable of doing so. Nevertheless, Israeli policymakers have long delayed action in response, hopeful that Western pressure will eventually have concrete effect. But they cannot avoid it indefinitely.
Perhaps the clearest articulation of the Israeli calculus was provided recently by Gen. Amos Yadlin, the country's former chief of military intelligence. Writing in the New York Times last week, Yadlin (now head of the Institute for National Security Studies, one of Israel's premier think tanks) outlined that "[w]hat is needed is an ironclad American assurance that if Israel refrains from acting in its own window of opportunity—and all other options have failed to halt Tehran's nuclear quest—Washington will act to prevent a nuclear Iran while it is still within its power to do so."
In the best of all possible worlds, the United States will be both willing and able of providing Israel with such a guarantee. Iran's nuclear program, after all, constitutes a truly global menace—one that America is best positioned to confront. But if it appears that Washington cannot or will not act against the threat, policymakers in Jerusalem may soon decide that they must. And the United States, not having led adequately in confronting the challenge from Iran, will need to follow—or get out of the way.