Joe Klein brings some interesting news about the state of Iran thinking in Washington in An Attack on Iran: Back on the Table.
Gates is sounding more belligerent these days. "I don't think we're prepared to even talk about containing a nuclear Iran," he told Fox News on June 20. "We do not accept the idea of Iran having nuclear weapons." In fact, Gates was reflecting a new reality in the military and intelligence communities. Diplomacy and economic pressure remain the preferred means to force Iran to negotiate a nuclear deal, but there isn't much hope that's going to happen. "Will [sanctions] deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability?" CIA Director Leon Panetta told ABC News on June 27. "Probably not." So the military option is very much back on the table.What has changed? "I started to rethink this last November," a recently retired U.S. official with extensive knowledge of the issue told me. "We offered the Iranians a really generous deal, which their negotiators accepted," he went on, referring to the offer to exchange Iran's 1.2 tons of low-enriched uranium (3.5% pure) for higher-enriched (20%) uranium for medical research and use. "When the leadership shot that down, I began to think, Well, we made the good-faith effort to engage. What do we do now?"Other intelligence sources say that the U.S. Army's Central Command, which is in charge of organizing military operations in the Middle East, has made some real progress in planning targeted air strikes — aided, in large part, by the vastly improved human-intelligence operations in the region. "There really wasn't a military option a year ago," an Israeli military source told me. "But they've gotten serious about the planning, and the option is real now." Israel has been brought into the planning process, I'm told, because U.S. officials are frightened by the possibility that the right-wing Netanyahu government might go rogue and try to whack the Iranians on its own. (Comment on this story.)One other factor has brought the military option to a low boil: Iran's Sunni neighbors really want the U.S. to do it. When United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba said on July 6 that he favored a military strike against Iran despite the economic and military consequences to his country, he was reflecting an increasingly adamant attitude in the region. Senior American officials who travel to the Gulf frequently say the Saudis, in particular, raise the issue with surprising ardor. Everyone from the Turks to the Egyptians to the Jordanians are threatening to go nuclear if Iran does. That is seen as a real problem in the most volatile region in the world: What happens, for example, if Saudi Arabia gets a bomb, and the deathless monarchy there is overthrown by Islamist radicals?...Of course, it is also possible that this low-key saber-rattling is simply a message the U.S. is trying to send the Iranians: it's time to deal.
The considerations of any such policy must not be "Will Israel do it on their own" or "Do the Sunnis want us to do it?" The important questions are "Do we need to do it for the safety of the U.S. and U.S. interests and allies? and "Can we do it?" and "Are the Iranians really building a bomb?"