Despite all the posturing, Israel, for reasons both political and technical, can’t attack Iran without US permission; the US, meanwhile, remains unlikely to give that permission, or do the job itself. Among the reasons:
•Iran’s facilities are too dispersed and hardened to be sure that air strikes – which risk destroying the American project in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the region – would do any more than temporarily delay Iran’s nuclear programme.
•The Iranian response would likely imperil tens of thousands of US troops within easy range of Tehran’s missile fleet, and would almost certainly drive oil prices up to levels that would make the US recession a long-term phenomenon.
•Iran has already attained the know-how to create nuclear materiel, the prevention of which Bush has stressed was the primary objective of the campaign against Iran’s enrichment efforts. Military action can’t eliminate that know-how.
•Despite the sabre-rattling, Iran may be moving to engage with the latest US-backed negotiating position offered by the Europeans.