Attack on Iran: the clock is ticking 'until Pesach'

● Atmosphere in Israel’s corridors of power ‘resembles run-up to Six-Day War’

By Anshel Pfeffer, October 1, 2009

As on every Yom Kippur for the past 35 years, Israeli newspapers, television and radio channels this week were full of interviews, features and special projects, picking at the unhealed wound of the terrible war that took a nation and its military idols by surprise.

But while the Yom Kippur War remains a trauma to this day, Israel’s current strategic predicament is much more reminiscent of the Six-Day War.

Then as now, the political leadership remains uncertain whether the looming threat — this time, from Iran — is indeed an existential one.

They are divided between those who believe that international diplomacy should be given another chance and those convinced that Israel has no choice but to go it alone.

A similar divide exists in the IDF general command between those who counsel caution and the officers who cannot wait for the politicians to give the command.

In Washington, meanwhile, Israel’s diplomats and allies are feverishly lobbying for the elusive “green light” from the White House.

Just read one of the excellent histories of 1967 published in recent years — the comparisons are breathtaking.

As in the weeks before the Six-Day War, Israel is now entering a “period of waiting”, with the army hanging on the prime minister’s word. At this stage, the urgency is not of the same order. The IDF’s reserves have not been mobilised. The generals are not demanding that Binyamin Netanyahu give the order, as they did 42 years ago of Levi Eshkol, some of them muttering darkly about the necessity of a military takeover.

But what we do have now is what seems to be almost a clear schedule, a deadline.

With negotiations between Iran and the Western powers beginning this week in Geneva, the clock has begun ticking.

A couple of months of talks; then a month or so in which the United States and its allies will have to assess progress and decide on the next step; and then two more months for the international community to impose sanctions or — in the less likely case — to verify that Iran is indeed dismantling its nuclear weapons programme.

Altogether about five months or, if you prefer, until Pesach, until Mr Netanyahu will have to get off the fence.

The tough talk at the G20 and the revealing of Iran’s second uranium enrichment plant have given Israeli leaders hope that at least this round of talks will be serious, and that there is a real effort to hold the Iranians to account.

But Israel has been disappointed by its friends in the international community enough times, and even if Barack Obama proves resolute, the Iranians may not be impressed.

Israel is about to call time.

As far as it is concerned, this is the last chance for diplomacy.

If it fails again, it will be time to consider those much vaunted “other options on the table”.

Last updated: 4:18pm, October 1 2009