While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on April 13, 2009.
I'd be very surprised if Israel bombed Iran's nuclear facilities anytime soon, despite what a guy over at ForeignPolicy.com's cousin (or step-parent?) Slate is saying. He offers all sorts of complicated political analyses about why such an attack would be in Israel's interests.
I just don't see how Israel could physically do it as long as the Americans are in Iraq. Hitting Iran is a tough mission to begin with for Israeli aircraft. It would probably be impossible for Israeli aircraft to hit Iran without passing through Iraqi airspace -- and they could not do that without the Americans knowing and being able to stop them. Thus the U.S. government would be seen by Iraqis and others as an accomplice of the Israeli attack. The fallout of such a bombing would make life in Iraq very difficult for more than 130,000 U.S. troops, even before the Iranians embarked upon a course of retaliation that probably would include stepping up roadside bombings of U.S. forces.
Rather, I think the real danger time for Iran is when, if ever, we get U.S. troops out of Iraq. Then the coast will be clear for those Israeli refueling tankers and F-15s. What's more, we no longer will have 130,000 U.S. hostages in Iraq susceptible to Iranian violence, so the U.S. could join Israel in stepping up the pressure.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.