Some Time This Fall…

William Galston, writing in the New Republic:

I visit Israel at least once a year, so I have an opportunity to observe changes in the country’s concerns. Never before have I sensed such a mood of foreboding, which has been triggered by two issues above all—the looming impasse in relations with the United States and a possible military confrontation with Iran…

…most Israelis—including many who are very dovish vis-a-vis the Palestinians—believe that only military force can prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power in the near future, and they cannot understand why the United States resists this conclusion. According to Ha’aretz, eyewitnesses on the ground support a recent report from the Times of London that Saudi Arabia has agreed to open its airspace to Israeli aircraft “as part of preparations for a possible attack on Iran.” (Israel refused to comment on this report, which the Saudis of course have denied.)

A few months ago I participated in a day-long exercise, organized by the Brookings Institution, simulating the aftermath of a surprise Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The outcome wasn’t pretty—a forceful Iranian attack on American allies throughout the region and a serious rift in relations between Israel and the United States. The Israeli team hoped that the United States would back them with military measures against Iran that the American team refused to initiate.

In both these areas, the Obama administration has been playing for time. But the sand in the hourglass is running down quickly. Some time this fall, an administration headed toward a midterm election with a faltering economy and negative developments in two war zones may confront a genuine Middle East crisis. We can only hope that its contingency plans are in place and that they’re better than BP’s.

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