On Sept. 26, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Iran's alleged progress, telling interviewer Charlie Rose that "time is short" before Iran obtains nuclear weapons and poses a direct threat to Israel and the rest of the world.
Yet, the key factor in any Israeli decision to send its aircraft and missiles to Iran is the degree to which Netanyahu and other hard-line Likud leaders believe that President Obama is locked into giving blanket support to Israel -- particularly as Election 2012 draws near.
The Israelis might well conclude that the formidable effectiveness of the Likud Lobby and knee-jerk support of the U.S. Congress as well as still powerful neoconservatives in the Executive Branch (and on the opinion pages of major American newspapers) amount to solid assurance of automatic support for pretty much anything Israel decides to do.
If Israel translates this into a green light to attack Iran, the rest of the world -- even Washington -- may get little or no warning.
Netanyahu and his associates would presumably be reluctant to give Obama the kind of advance notice that might allow him to consult some adult political and military advisers and thus give him a chance to try to spike Israeli plans.
Consequences of blindsiding? There would be a strong argument in Tel Aviv that past precedent amply demonstrates that there are few if any consequences for blindsiding Obama on Israeli actions.
There is also the precedent of how an earlier generation of Likud leaders reacted to a possible second term by a Democratic president who was suspected of having less than total loyalty to Israel.
In 1980, Prime Minister Menachem Begin was angered by President Jimmy Carter's pressure that had forced Israel to surrender the Sinai in exchange for a peace treaty with Egypt. Begin made clear to his followers at home and abroad that Carter, if freed from the political pressure of facing reelection, might push Israel into accepting a Palestinian state. So, Begin quietly shifted Israel's political support to Republican Ronald Reagan, helping to ensure Carter's lopsided defeat.
Similarly, some Israeli hard-liners suspect that Obama in a second term might be liberated from his fear of Israeli political retaliation and thus renew pressure on Netanyahu to halt Jewish settlements in the occupied territory of Palestine and to reach a true accommodation with the Palestinians.
Under this analysis, a second-term Obama might add to Israel's growing isolation in the Middle East, which even Defense Secretary Leon Panetta noted Sunday, telling reporters that Israel must restart negotiations with the Palestinians and work to restore relations with Egypt and Turkey.
"Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you're isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena?" Panetta asked. "And that's what's happening."
A Very Bad Year
Indeed, 2011 has been the worst year in recent memory for Israel, ushering in a highly unfavorable sea change in its strategic position.
Israel has lost the support of formerly friendly governments in Egypt and Turkey and finds itself increasingly isolated internationally, as the occupation of Palestinian territory begins its 45th year and the plight of the Palestinian people garners more and more attention -- and sympathy.
As Netanyahu and his right-wing advisers look at the new constellation of stars, it is a safe bet they discern an imperative to readjust them in Israel's favor.
But -- by attacking Iran? Okay, I know it sounds crazy. It is crazy. The question, however, is whether it sounds crazy to Israel's leaders, accustomed as they are to a reality in which the tail can wag a large dog at will.