Israel's fear of a nuclear Iran is deeply felt, and an IAEA report this week could add to it. But it's still hard to see a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities any time soon.
Leaked portions of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report scheduled for release tomorrow indicate that Iran's nuclear program is closer to a weapon than previously suspected by the watchdog.
In the run-up to the release there's been plenty of breathless speculation about whether Israel is planing to take matters into their own hands and bomb Iran. Yesterday, Israeli President Shimon Peres called Iran "the greatest danger, both for Israel and for the entire world." There's been a furious Israeli public debate over a possible air attack on Iranian nuclear facilities for the past week, and US officials have been sending up smoke signals that they're worried about it.
The Russians have been more direct. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today that an air strike "would be a very serious mistake fraught with unpredictable consequences."
So, are we nearing some kind of military showdown, with Israel in the lead? Probably not.
Israel's fear of a nuclear Iran is deeply felt, and shouldn't be ignored. But an operation to take out Iran's nuclear program – widely dispersed, in a country far from Israeli air space – would be fraught with risks, and is precisely something Iran's military planners have been preparing for since at least 1981, when Israel took out Iraq's nuclear program in one surprise strike. Israel could certainly delay Iran's nuclear program, but is unlikely to destroy it.
And the aftermath of an attack could see renewed fighting with Lebanon's Hezbollah, which might take up the banner of "resistance" in Iran's name and rain shells on northern Israel. The chances of counteraction from Hamas-controlled Gaza is also real, though less of a direct military threat.
Finally, the stance of regional neighbors and foreign partners also contain risks. While most Arab governments would be delighted to be rid of the risk of an Iranian nuclear program, their people might not agree. A flurry of propaganda is all but guaranteed in the wake of an Israeli strike – claims that schools or civilians, not bona fide weapons facilities were hit, whatever actually happened. Given the context of greater calls for political change in the region after the ousters of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya's dictators, Israel's diplomatic isolation in the region is likely to grow.