09.02.2012 _____________________

“Do you still think Israel will bomb Iran?”

“Sadly, yes.”

Each month, for more than two years now, a friend has asked me this question. You see, we have a bet: I believe Israel not only wants to but also will, in the end, bomb Iran; He believes it would be sheer folly, so they won’t. He thinks his rationalist view will prevail.

The bet is for a book he owns which I covet; for a photo of mine that he would like to display on his living room wall. I hope he wins the bet.

Attacking Iran in the hopes of destroying a nuclear-weapons program, which no one has ever proven exists, would be a catastrophic act of folly. I understand Israeli fears — I think it has just chosen the wrong path to security. First, there is near unanimity that even if Iran were pursuing a nuclear weapons program, an attack on its facilities would only be a setback, a delay in its eventual success and deployment. Second, there would be global consequences that would spiral nations into deeper economic recession and conflict. Third, even if the United States didn’t actively participate in the strike, the use of U.S. military technology and armaments by Israel would make us a co-conspirator in a new war of aggression in the Middle East. Talks still continue with Iran. Sanctions deepen their bite. In a statement that has received little attention (and much scorn in some quarters) Reuters reported from Tehran this week that, “Iran has no interest in nuclear weapons but will keep pursuing peaceful nuclear energy. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as telling assembled heads of state from developing countries at a summit of the 120-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), “Our motto is nuclear energy for all and nuclear weapons for none.—

Sadly, not only do I think an attack is coming soon but, reading the press and the tea leaves, I think it will happen before the presidential election in November. Prime Minister Netanyahu has backed himself into a corner. As J.J. Goldberg wrote in The Forward, “Netanyahu’s failure to win support for a raid puts him in a terrible bind. On one hand, he has essentially committed himself to attacking. Having laid the gun on the table, he has to pull the trigger or risk damaging his and Israel’s credibility.”

Ephraim Halevy, a former Mossad Chief and Israeli National Security Council head was quoted, “If I were an Iranian, I would be very worried about the Israeli talk about a possible attack, because Israel’s threats sound serious and credible to me.”

A headline in the Jerusalem Post on Aug. 31, 2012, read: PM tells U.S. ‘time has run out’ on Iran diplomacy. Source tells ‘Yediot Aharonot’ that Netanyahu initiates shouting match with U.S. Ambassador Shapiro on Obama’s Iran policy.

“According to the report, which the Jerusalem Post could not independently verify …; A source that participated in the meeting said that a particularly angry and stressed Netanyahu began a tirade against the U.S. president, attacking him for not doing enough on Iran. “Instead of pressuring Iran in an effective way, Obama and his people are pressuring us not to attack the nuclear facilities,” the source quoted Netanyahu as saying.”

“Angered about continued U.S. rhetoric that diplomacy needs more time to work, Netanyahu said flatly: ‘Time has run out,’ Yediot reported.”

President Obama has repeatedly promised not to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Secretary of Defense Panetta and Secretary of State Clinton have reinforced the message that all options, including military, are on the table. Ambassador Shapiro is said to have told Prime Minister Netanyahu that he was “distorting Obama’s position.”

Israel Hayom, the daily newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson, close confidant of Prime Minister Netanyahu and mega-supporter of Mitt Romney, led its reporting of the Republication National Convention: “Romney: Obama ‘threw Israel under the bus.'”

Romney’s charges must have been music to Adelson’s ears. Israel Hayom continued, “As he accepts Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney slams president’s Iran policy …; Every American is less secure today because Obama failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat … We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning, says Romney.”

If Romney wins the election, Sen. John McCain, John Bolton, Dan Senor (who was tapped by Romney to head Paul Ryan’s vice presidential campaign), Sheldon Adelson and all others who believe that supporting Israeli actions against Iran, and supporting the continued occupation of Palestinian territory, will go unchallenged for at least the following four years. By that time, no two-state solution will be possible.

There will be no peace in the Middle East, and America will find itself continuously engulfed in the Muslim world against its interests and against its will.

The neocons who want us to stay in Afghanistan, who think that the war in Iraq was a success, who want us to intervene in Syria, who have failed to acknowledge the rise of democracy in Egypt, and who feel that it’s “the American (and Israeli) way or the highway” for the emerging Middle East are threatening the security of both nations.

Netanyahu knows that if Israel attacks Iran and the attack goes badly Obama will be forced to step up and back Israel’s hand. The resulting global turmoil and economic consequences will crush Obama’s hopes for re-election. Conversely, if Israel needs the United States’ help and doesn’t get it, there will be widespread indignation over Obama’s “failure to support an ally,” and he will be defeated.

Anshel Pfeffer wrote in Ha’aretz: “I don’t envy the Iranian intelligence officer who is trying right now to make some sense out of all this.”

And I don’t envy the American president who is trying right now to make some sense out of all this.

I hope I lose the bet.

This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald