Almost a year ago to the day, in a totally surprising move, the Israeli Air Force
bombed a suspected nuclear facility in Syria. Interestingly, over the previous
summer, Israel had reportedly warned the George W. Bush administration. Despite
opposition from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates, Israel moved to eliminate what it believed was an imminent threat.
Since Iran is a much bigger threat than Syria was and since the diplomatic
efforts and sanctions have led almost nowhere, the question is not if Israel
will strike but rather when. One of the people convinced of this outcome is
French President Nicolas Sarkozy who on Sept. 4 from Damascus, of all places,
warned Iran: "Iran is taking a major risk by continuing the process of
seeking nuclear technology for military ends, because one day, no matter which
Israeli government is in power, one morning we will awake to find Israel has
While some pundits and analysts classify this kind of statement in the psychological
warfare/bluff game, the truth is quite different. Interestingly Iran dismissed
Sarkozy's statement and a deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Nour
Ali Shoushtari boasted that "the enemy does not dare attack Iran, as it
knows that it will receive fatal blows from Iran if it ventures into such a
But in reality, Iran should not take these warnings lightly because time and
again Israel has proven in its short history that it will not tolerate a deadly
In a recent appearance at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, deputy
Israeli Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz's speech and body language could not be clearer
especially when he repeated several times, talking about Iran's threat: "Israel
will not allow a second Holocaust."
At this point in time it seems like Israel is left with the least desired option:
the military one.
The main reason for this is the total failure of the international community
to pressure Iran to give up its quest for a nuclear weapon. In fact after five
years of official non-stop negotiations and three U.N. sanctions, Iran has advanced
unopposed its military nuclear program.
While some view that Iran has fooled the international community, it is rather
the West that has accepted to be fooled. Indeed by not succeeding in applying
real tough sanctions on Iran, the world has come to the point where Iran is
ever so close to have access to a nuclear bomb.
It is no secret as to what could force Iran to give in: crippling its oil-based
economy. In fact, 85 percent of Iran's revenue comes from exporting oil and
at the same time Iran imports 40 percent of its gasoline. Sanctions that would
include banning import of Iranian oil and exporting of gasoline to Iran will
never pass because of a Russian and/or Chinese veto. Also the passing of a fourth
round of U.N. sanctions against Iran is very unlikely especially since the recent
Georgian crisis, Russia will block anything the West will suggest and even more
so when it is a condemnation of its Iranian ally.
The solution around this would be for Western navies to block the Strait of
Hormuz and not allow any oil to flow in and out of Iran. While this would have
very negative impact on the oil market in the short run if the blockade just
lasts a few days and Iran caves in, then the world could have averted a new
A small price to pay, isn't it? But since this suggestion seems unlikely to
be followed anytime soon, Israel is going to be left with the only choice, that
of a military strike against Iran.
Now as to the timing? First, the timing of a new incoming Israeli prime minister
is going to have a clear impact on when the strike will occur. But what is sure
is that like in all military operations, the element of surprise is crucial
so the longer Israel waits, the more prepared Iran will be. Interestingly, experts
are placing the risks of an Israeli attack on Iran by January 2009 at anywhere
between 0 and 30 percent.
That clearly leaves Israel with a potential opportunity to surprise everyone
including most importantly the mullahs' regime in Tehran. Taking a contrarian
view, the ideal time for a strike would be in the transition period in the United
States between Nov. 4 (the election of a new president) and Jan. 20 (his entering
But depending on who is elected, the odds are not the same. In fact, if Dem.
Sen. Barack Obama wins, the likelihood of an Israeli strike during the transition
is significantly higher, maybe up to 70 percent, than if Rep. Sen. John Mc Cain
becomes president because of Obama's and Joe Biden's appeasing views on Iran
and less favorable to Israel.
In this eventuality, it would make more sense for Israel to strike while the
more favorable President George W. Bush is still in office.
Olivier Guitta, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
and a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant, is the founder of the
newsletter The Croissant (www.thecroissant.com).