The stunning display of air power by Israel in early June, unannounced but widely noticed by intelligence services worldwide, means that Israel has officially signed on to John McCain's presidential bid.
By sending more than a hundred F-15s and F-16s across Greece and the Mediterranean in a practice mission for a large-scale attack on Iran, the Israelis have upped the ante dramatically. The New York Times, which reported the action, quotes a Pentagon official who said that it was all about sending messages:
"They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know," the Pentagon official said. "There's a lot of signaling going on at different levels."
But the most important message is to the American political system. McCain has made a point of his willigness, even eagerness, to escalate the crisis with Iran. And while Barack Obama has said repeatedly that he won't take the threat of military action off the table, he's challenged McCain over the Arizonan's refusal to talk to Iran.
So Israel is challenging Obama, too.
Most analysts do not believe that Israel has the capability to conduct an effective attack against Iran. It's too far away, its air defenses, while weak, aren't nil, and its facilities are too scattered and buried to be destroyed in the sort of attack that Israel might mount. So what does this mean?
Of course, Israel could strike Iran even in a limited way, do some damage to a limited number of Iran's nuclear facilities, and then sit back and watch the crisis unfold. Perhaps the Israelis might hope that Iran will strike back at American targets (say, in Iraq), and Israel might hope to draw the United States into a broader war with Iran. But I don't believe Iran would respond to an Israeli strike by attacking American targets, because that would be suicidal. So, if Israel acts alone, and Iran doesn't respond, Israel would suffer overwhelming world condemnation -- especially in light of the American National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iran halted its bomb-making five years ago. Israel would also be blamed by many friends and allies (say, India and Europe) for pushing oil prices toward $200 a barrel or more.
So it's most likely that Israel is hoping to push the post-Bush president of the United States into taking a more confrontational stance toward Iran. That's called blackmail. It's the "Samson complex": do what we want or we will bring the whole temple crashing down. For Obama, it's a bluff worth calling--because, ultimately, like Iran, Israel is not a suicide nation. And bombing Iran would be suicidal for Israel.