There is ample evidence that the Israeli government and Israelis in general believe that an Obama administration will be much more inclined toward Israel’s enemies than any previous U.S. administration. There is also ample evidence that the Israeli government and the Bush administration have major disagreements over the imminence of the Iranian threat. If a Bush administration would react unfavorably to an Israeli preempt, how is a distinctly unfriendly (to Israel) Obama administration going to react? As I discussed in my previous article it is not unthinkable that the Obama administration would threaten to actively prevent an Israeli attack on Iran that would interfere with direct U.S.-Iran peace talks.
The Israeli planners will likely assign a low probability to an actively hostile U.S. administration – it is a “worst case” after all. Even without a worst case scenario, the Israelis are very close to the “drop dead date” for preemption. Rather than deal with the uncertainties of an Obama administration, the prudent course is to attack before the Obama administration can establish new policies and communicate them to the Israelis. The Israelis can therefore be expected to follow the old adage that it is better to ask forgiveness than seek permission.
There is another very important factor that would exist even if John McCain were elected: the Israeli parliamentary elections are going to be held in early February. The Kadima Party, now headed by Tzipi Livni, faces repudiation by the voters – the Likud Party, headed by former PM Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to pick up a large number of seats in the Knesset. Moreover, Kadima is a fusion party. Though most of its members were formerly with Likud, many prominent former members of Labor also joined the Party. Kadima is very much a creature of Ariel Sharon, who created the Party after he left Likud, and now that he is out of the picture there is a legitimate question as to whether or not Kadima can remain intact. Benjamin Netanyahu has made it very clear that if he and Likud head the government, there will be no “Second Holocaust” from an Iranian nuclear attack. Livni and Kadima are perceived as more dovish, relatively speaking. This would be a problem apart from the corruption of former Kadima head Ehud Omert, which forced his resignation and is the proximate cause of the early elections.
For all of the foregoing reasons, Israel will attack before the February elections. The only question that remains is when. There are two options: during the lame-duck term of George W. Bush or at the beginning of Barack Obama’s term.
Bush is very well liked in Israel and is widely viewed as a friend. There is still a remote possibility that Bush will launch air strikes so the Israelis will probably give him at least through November. Assuming, as I do, that there is still some flex in the Israeli attack schedule, I am guessing that the Israelis won’t attack while Bush is still President. That moves D-Day to early in the Obama Presidency. For domestic political purposes, a few weeks before the February elections – sometime in late January – would be optimal once it has been decided to attack. Think of it as being the Israeli political equivalent of the American “October Surprise”.
The temptation for a Kadima-led government to attack in January would exist if McCain were elected but I don’t believe it would be acted upon. McCain is known and respected – Israelis trust that he will take action against Iran or, at least, will not prevent the Israelis from doing so.
So, I am formally predicting that Israel will launch a preemptive attack on Iran that takes the most expeditious route – that is, the attack will go through Iraqi airspace. It will take place in the latter part of January, while the Obama administration is organizing itself. Were I planning the Israeli strike, in order to eliminate any worst case scenario in which the Obama administration interferes with it, I’d launch the attack so that the first wave crosses over into Iraqi airspace at 17:01 GMT on 20 January. This would be at the same time Obama is taking his Oath of Office. No one in the U.S. government will be in a position to react to this “crisis” and the Israelis can expect no interference from U.S. force.
Obama is going to be very displeased that his peace plans for the Mideast are dashed – he’ll be personally affronted if the Israelis attack during his Inauguration, thus sending the message that they don’t trust him. It doesn’t really matter because Obama is going to be drug, kicking and screaming, into fighting a war with Iran in the Persian Gulf. The ironic aspect is that the vast military apparatus he will head will be able to kick major butt – Obama may well come out of a U.S.-Iran military engagement with enhanced stature because he will have been forced into doing the right thing.