Although the presidential elections have taken center stage of late, there's another round of nuclear talks with Iran taking place in the coming week, and tensions are running high. There's long been suspicion that Israel may preemptively strike Iran if it doesn't cease its nuclear program, but now it seems that the US is openly admitting it, too, is prepared to strike if diplomacy fails.
The U.S. has plans in place to attack Iran if necessary to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, Washington's envoy to Israel said, days ahead of a crucial round of nuclear talks with Tehran.
Dan Shapiro's message resonated Thursday far beyond the closed forum in which it was made: Iran should not test Washington's resolve to act on its promise to strike if diplomacy and sanctions fail to pressure Tehran to abandon its disputed nuclear program.
Shapiro told the Israel Bar Association the U.S. hopes it will not have to resort to military force.
"But that doesn't mean that option is not fully available. Not just available, but it's ready," he said. "The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it's ready."
The annoucement comes as Israel's leadership tightens its lips on the matter. Although the country has been vocal about its willingness to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, its recent stoicism has led to speculation that it's actually preparing to launch a strike. Insiders say that Israel might attack before the US presidential elections, so as to force our support.
As the deadline for a decision draws nearer, the public pronouncements of Israel's top officials and military have changed. After hawkish warnings about a possible strike earlier this year, their language of late has been more guarded and clues to their intentions more difficult to discern.
"The top of the government has gone into lockdown," one official said. "Nobody is saying anything publicly. That in itself tells you a lot about where things stand."
"I think they have made a decision to attack," said one senior Israeli figure with close ties to the leadership. "It is going to happen. The window of opportunity is before the U.S. presidential election in November. This way they will bounce the Americans into supporting them."
Iran is preparing to relocate its facilities underground, which means that the window for an attack is closing. But of course, an attack pre-November could drastically complicate the election over here, and refocus it from the economy to foreign affairs. It's a heady decision, and it sounds like it's in the works already. Next week's summit in Baghdad ought to offer more insight into the situation, but clearly, it's tense, and it's liable to get worse.