TEL AVIV — Twenty years have passed since Israel first raised the alarm over Iran's nuclear program, 10 years since Iranian dissidents revealed the enrichment plant at Natanz, and roughly two since pundits started predicting an Israeli attack against the Islamic Republic. Today, never have so many Israelis from across the political spectrum agreed that a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities could arrive within months.
Channel 2, Israel's leading newscast, reported earlier this month that the foremost advocates of a strike -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak -- are nearing a final decision on whether to push the button. Meanwhile, Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn wrote that Netanyahu wants to attack "in the coming weeks" -- and Yossi Melman, the paper's former intelligence reporter, estimated the "window of opportunity" for a strike at 80 days.
Efraim Halevy, the former head of Israel's Mossad spy service and an outspoken opponent of a strike, echoed the same sentiment. "If I were an Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks," the laconic, British-born septuagenarian said early this month.
While the media often depict Netanyahu as the prime mover behind a strike, it is Barak -- the one-time standard-bearer of the Israeli left -- who over the past two years has emerged as the unlikely champion of military action. This support from Netanyahu's political polar opposite has been crucial in leading Israel to the brink of war.
"Barak is much more of a hawk than Netanyahu," a security analyst and former longtime member of Israel's National Security Council told FP. "The idea that Bibi is the hawk and Barak is a good little boy serves Israel -- it's the good cop, bad cop routine -- but I don't believe there's much of a difference between them on this issue."
"Barak is the stone-cold analyst: What are the objectives? What are the risks?" the former official said. "Bibi comes from a different perspective -- that of the historical leader. Jewish history weighs upon him, and he's leader of the Jewish state, the country with the world's biggest Jewish population."
Netanyahu and Barak view the Iranian nuclear threat in roughly the same terms, analysts told FP, but where they stand on the issue depends largely on where they sit. "Netanyahu is much more prudent, because he's the prime minister and has to make sure he has broad legitimacy from the cabinet and the public," said Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University. "Nonetheless, both are of the opinion that something must be done."
According to Rabi, Israeli officials' interminable warnings of an impending strike could be an attempt to prepare the Israeli home front, and international public opinion, for the inevitably messy aftermath of any such action. "What Barak and Netanyahu have done over the past month or so is tell everyone -- the Iranians, Americans and Israeli public -- that a military option could be in the offing," he said."