Lovely summer for a war

One of these lazy, sunny days, we’re likely to hear on the news that Israel has just bombed Iran.

The question of whether Israel will soon attack Iran is one of those things where your senses completely deceive you. The more Israeli politicians and generals talk about it, the closer it seems, and the more fearful you become – but the bombast is a good sign that it’s not about to happen because if it was, they wouldn’t be talking about it so loud for Iran to hear. No, it’s when the rhetoric has quieted down, when things seem too peaceful for a war to just suddenly break out – when you don’t sense danger, when you’re not afraid – that Netanyahu would have the maximum (though still miniscule) element of surprise against Iran and be most likely to pull the trigger.

Actually, now that I write this, I think Netanyahu figures this is exactly what the Iranians are thinking, so at some point he’s going to start beating the war drums really loud, and when they’re at their peak, when the Iranians are thinking that this isn’t the time, that’s when he’ll give the order.

Well, who really knows if Bibi is second-guessing or third-guessing Iran on how to catch them unawares, or as unawares as is still possible. What I am pretty well convinced of, though, is that barring the virtual impossibility of Iran’s agreeing very soon to shut down its entire nuclear project and let Israel verify that it has, then if Obama will not attack Iran – and it seems he won’t – Bibi will. Within the coming months. Sometime before the November 2 presidential election – a one-time window of opportunity when Israel can do whatever it wants and get the White House’s support – but long enough before the vote so it doesn’t look like Bibi is timing the war to influence its outcome. Before October, I’d say.

I don’t understand people who think Netanyahu is bluffing. Sure, he’s threatening war partially for effect – he wants to scare America and Europe into pressuring Iran in the hope that this will convince Khameini to halt the nuclear project; naturally, Bibi would prefer to neutralize Iran without having to fire a shot. But what if Iran doesn’t agree and goes on enriching uranium and acting suspiciously, as it’s doing? Is Bibi then going to trust Obama or Romney to save Israel from what he envisions as a second Holocaust,  knowing that he will bear eternal responsibility if they don’t? I don’t believe he considers that an option. And I think that in Netanyahu’s position, most of the prime ministers before him would probably size things up the same way. Israeli-style fear and aggression didn’t start with Bibi, I’m afraid.

Three months ago, he told Channel 2 that stopping Iran’s nuclear program was “not a matter of days or weeks. It is also not a matter of years.” That would seem to leave “months” as the time frame he had in mind.

And today, Moshe “Bugi” Ya’alon, the vice premier and former IDF chief of staff, told Haaretz’s Ari Shavit in a long interview that everything we’re seeing and hearing is absolutely for real.

Q. Israel is not believed either internationally or domestically. The feeling is that Israel is crying wolf and playing a sophisticated game of ‘Hold me back.’

Ya’alon: Let me say one thing to you in English, because it is very important for English speakers to understand it: We are not bluffing. If the political-economic pressure is played out and the other alternatives are played out, and Iran continues to hurtle toward a bomb, decisions will have to be made.

Q. Is there a danger that the Iranian crisis will reach its peak already in the year ahead?

Ya’alon: There was a time when we talked about a decade. Afterward we talked about years. Now we are talking about months. It is possible that the sanctions will suddenly work. But presently we are in a situation that necessitates a daily check. I am not exaggerating: daily. From our point of view, Iranian ability to manufacture nuclear weapons is a sword held over our throat. The sword is getting closer and closer. Under no circumstances will Israel agree to let the sword touch its throat.

There’s one other thing that convinces me Bibi’s going to do it:  He has this Roman air about him now. He has this flat stare, he talks quietly, with little expression – as if it’s beneath his station to exert himself, as if all he has to do is be there for everyone and everything to arrange itself according to his will, which is unerring. He’s always been a hugely arrogant, vain person, the power and prestige have always gone straight to his head – but he’s never had such power and prestige as he has now, and his head is the size of the sun. Obama is nothing to him, America is nothing to him, other people’s opinions are nothing to him. He’s invincible. He will do what he wants to do, when he wants to do it.

I know this is hard to imagine. The sun’s shining, people are looking forward to going on vacation; the idea that Israel is about to start a war with Iran that could bring in (as Ya’alon expects it will) Lebanon, Gaza and maybe Syria, too, seems ridiculous. It contradicts the evidence of our senses. But the senses are one thing, and reason is another, and my reason, at least, says that one of these lazy, sunny days, the war Bibi’s been promising us for so long will be here. On schedule.

Related: Today’s Haaretz interview with Moshe Ya’alon