Almost single-handedly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have wrenched the world's attention toward the apocalyptic potential of a nuclear Iran. "Today a great battle is being waged between the modern and the medieval," Netanyahu said at the United Nations in September. "At stake is not merely the future of my country. At stake is the future of the world."
Barak, once the standard-bearer of the Israeli left and an implacable foe of Netanyahu, has improbably become Bibi's closest ally in the effort to stop Tehran from going nuclear. He has played a crucial role in focusing minds on what he calls the "zone of immunity" -- when Iran's nuclear program is past the point it can be destroyed by arms. If Israel does decide to strike on its own, it will be in no small measure due to Barak's framing of a threat that he has called "a sword on the neck" of the Jewish state.
The effects of a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities remain unknown, but the result of this rhetorical offensive has been impressive. The two Israelis not only sparked a political debate at home but also induced Europe to cut off oil imports from Iran and got U.S. President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney into a prolonged argument over which presidential hopeful would be a better ally to the government in Jerusalem. Pretty impressive for a country the size of New Jersey.
As Netanyahu, at times an open partisan of the Republicans in the U.S. campaign, pressed Washington to define "red lines" that could provoke military action, Obama rushed to warn the Islamic Republic that "time is not unlimited" for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue, in addition to lining up an international coalition to isolate Iran. Israeli leaders have watched these moves with grudging appreciation, but they haven't taken their fingers off the trigger. "We've waited for diplomacy to work. We've waited for sanctions to work," Netanyahu said recently. "None of us can afford to wait much longer."