2. Israel doesn't really want to do it
And the Israelis know it. The fact is they have no intention of doing anything now; for the time being, it's far less risky to maintain the status quo. Sanctions are tough and might get tougher, cyber and covert war have had some effect, and the unraveling situation in Syria -- where Iran has remained a stalwart ally of embattled President Bashar al-Assad -- has isolated Tehran even further. Meanwhile, the Israelis can keep the world focused on their agenda and on the edge of their collective chairs, worried about a military strike and perhaps willing to do even more to hammer the Iranians. It's far from ideal, but not half bad for a strategy that doesn't require firing a single shot or missile.
Make no mistake: The Israelis are prepared to strike Iran. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has a plan and believes it can succeed. But he knows Israel's capacity to inflict a crippling blow to Iran's nuclear program is limited. It's akin to mowing the grass, really -- a move that would buy Israel a couple of years at most. What a unilateral strike will do, however, is not only to legitimate Iran's quest for nuclear weapons but also accelerate it. That's precisely what happened when the Israelis struck Saddam Hussein's plutonium reactors in 1981. And the Israelis know that, too.
3. Let America do it
What the Israelis really want is to persuade the United States to bring the full force of its military might to bear on the problem. Washington could do extensive damage to Iran's unconventional and conventional military capacity. Ultimately, however, a U.S. attack would probably also fail to stop Iran's nuclear program permanently -- producing only a more substantial delay.
But for the Israelis, the advantages of letting Washington take the lead are considerable. They would avoid a crisis in their relationship with the United States as well as the international censure that would accompany a unilateral strike. The damage to Iran's nuclear facilities would also be much greater.
And while the mullahs could handle, and perhaps even profit from, an Israeli strike, a war with America -- involving a sustained air and missile campaign that lasts for weeks -- is not something they want. The "rally around the flag" effect could be dampened by the severity of an American attack and, who knows, questions might even be raised about the wisdom of pressing ahead with the nuclear project. The Israelis probably even have dreams of regime change in Tehran.
All of this augurs for putting the proverbial ball in America's court -- and not surprising and alienating the Obama administration by striking before the November elections. The last thing Netanyahu wants is a reelected and angry American president. Sure, Netanyahu doesn't want to see Barack Obama reelected at all. But the one way to guarantee that would be to strike before the elections. There's probably no way America could stay out, depending on the nature of Iran's response. And if the United States did become involved militarily, there would be a positive rally-round-the-president effect. Mitt Romney would be left applauding from the sidelines.