Worried about a war with Iran, regional instability, more terrorism, rising oil prices or plunging markets? Don't be -- at least not yet. Think 2013. If Israel can't get assurances that the U.S. is prepared to use force, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will act later this year or early next.
But for now, there will be no war and certainly no deal over the nuclear issue. And the reason for that is pretty compelling: the mullahs, the Israelis, and the Americans all don't want one right now -- and here's why.
1. It's not necessary
Nobody should trivialize the danger posed by a nuclear Iran or underestimate Israel's concerns about that possibility. Even if we had divine assurance that Iran wouldn't use nukes against Israel, an Iranian bomb would embolden Tehran's regional aspirations, erode American deterrence, trigger an arms race in the region, and give a repressive power an additional hedge on its own security.
At the same time, few buy the case for an immediate strike, either. Indeed, let's be clear about something: Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapon. As far as we know, it hasn't tested one, produced enough fissile material for a sustainable program, or mastered the weaponization of a nuclear warhead -- yet. Right now, in August 2012, there's only one country that believes it's imperative to strike Iran: Israel. And even that is somewhat misleading, because there's no consensus within the Israeli public, political elite, or security establishment about the need to attack. According to one recent poll, 60 percent of Israelis were against an Israeli strike.
Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has framed the idea as one of necessity. For just about everyone else in the world (though actually, the Saudis might want someone to take a whack at Teheran so long as the mullahs don't take it out on them), including the United States, Israel's closest ally, attacking Iran's nascent nuclear capacity would be a war of choice -- and a galactically risky one at that.
Look at the return-to-risk ratio. The attack might go badly, in which case planes and pilots would be lost or taken hostage. Even if everything goes according to plan, oil prices could surge, markets and fragile economies might tumble, terror would likely increase, and Iranian missiles could conceivably strike Israel. Attacks against Americans in Afghanistan would almost certainly intensify, and Israel's stock abroad, perhaps even in America, would plummet precipitously.
And for what? The possibility that Iran's nuclear program will be set back for a few years? And who's going to measure how much damage has been done? Or turn around and tell the Iranians they don't have a legitimate reason to ramp up their nuclear program? What happens to sanctions, without which Iran would probably already have a nuclear weapon?
For Israel to court those kinds of risks on the grounds that within three to six months, Iran will have entered a nebulous zone of immunity where its sites will be so redundant, so hardened, and so diffused that they will be beyond Israel's capacity to strike effectively is not a sufficient or credible basis on which to trigger an international crisis with global financial, security, and economic consequences. This is doubly true when you consider that the returns -- a temporary crippling of Iran's nuclear program that isn't even guaranteed -- are so tentative.