Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker last April:
The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack.
Last week Israel launched its massive bombardment of Lebanon ostensively to rescue two kidnapped soldiers from Hezbollah. However, within a few days it became quite apparent that Israel had wider goals. Israel says that its goal is to destroy Hezbollah once and for all. However, as I pointed out in an earlier post, that goal is unlikely and Israel certainly knows it is unlikely. In fact with every bomb that falls on Lebanon, Hezbollah becomes politically stronger as the beleaguered population turns to them for protection and for essential services. Thanks to Israel, Hezbollah has been resurrected once again as Lebanon’s resistance movement. That is a tremendous price in long-term security for Israel to pay for short-term revenge.
But it can’t simply be revenge. The massive bombardment and the misery caused the Lebanese people is being pursued at the service of a broader military agenda. This is the Doctrine of Preemption at its most naked form. Hezbollah is Iran’s primary deterrent against Israel in the event of an attack. Israel knows that it cannot defeat Hezbollah with aerial bombing or another long and protracted ground invasion of Lebanon, but it can certainly degrade its capabilities in the short term and cause Hezbollah to go to ground. That may be quite enough to prepare the ground for an American or Israeli attack on Iran.
When the Seymour Hersh article came out, there was public concern that the Bush Administration was set on a path to war with Iran. Those concerns have not been allayed by recent events. In fact, recent events suggest that war with Iran is only a matter of time. Responding to Mr. Hersh’s article I wrote this at the time:
The Israelis have been pushing the notion of a point of no return, or "turning point", for quite some time, arguing that even though the actual bomb may be sometime away the date on the calendar that we should be concerned about is much sooner when the Iranian program reaches a technical threshold that once achieved cannot be reversed. Israel has chosen a timetable for attack by the United States by the end of this year by indicating if this attack does not happen, they will launch the attack unilaterally. Israel has also been at the forefront of the nuclear strike option.
The timetable set by Israel for the United States dovetails nicely with the November Congressional elections. An attack on Iran would politically rescue Mr. Bush and the Congressional Republicans from the disaster in Iraq. The actual attack does not have to occur before the elections, in fact it is better politically that the attack take place after the elections. The drumbeat to war and the tension and fear it will generate for the public is much more useful as a political tool than the war itself. By this time in early November, with any luck for the Republicans, the daily death toll in Iraq, the Congressional scandals, the NSA spying and the fallout from the NIE leaking should all take a backseat to the coming war with Iran. With these constraints, the likely strike date on Iran will be in late November or early December of this year, just in time for the Christmas season.
I think the Bush Administration is right on schedule for an end-of-year/election time attack on Iran.
The usual suspects are out in full force. Bill Kristol is foaming at the mouth with talk of war with Iran. All fingers are pointing at Iran as the real problem. The White House has given Israel time to "defang" Hezbollah and is oddly silent as the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon grows. Mr. Bush’s chief Anti-Diplomat at the United Nations brushed aside Kofi Annan’s call for a cease-fire with the standard mantra:
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, reacted skeptically to the proposals, saying the United States wants a cessation of hostilities to be part of a "comprehensive change in the region" and does not see how a cease-fire agreement can be reached "with a group of terrorists."
The American position is becoming very hard to defend as more Lebanese continue to die. Yet, here we are and now we are also seeing Iranian tourists at North Korean missile launches. The rhetoric and the military plans are coming together rather nicely. A pliant Congress and a public outraged at Iran for "orchestrating" the kidnapping of 2 Israeli soldiers will make for an easy ride into Tehran.
What happens after the bombs land in Iran remains the real concern. But just like in Iraq, an exit strategy is not part of Mr. Bush’s war chest. I have always said that the way out of Iraq for Mr. Bush lay through Iran. In other words, he can make the conflict in Iraq a footnote by starting a wider conflict in the region. It may not be the smartest foreign policy move for the United States, but it is likely to be a political winner come November.