The Daily Telegraph report over the weekend that Israel is "negotiating" with the US for an air corridor that would enable IAF warplanes to fly directly on bombing missions to Iran might be true, but at the most, it is only a minor detail. A strike against Iran is possible even without flying over US-controlled Iraq. It would mean many more hours in the air and a couple of in-flight refuelings, but it's still well within the IAF's capability. And there are other ways of damaging the Iranian nuclear installations besides an air strike. But the question of method is not the main issue. What has to be settled first of all is whether the US and Israel are on the same wavelength. Despite repeated assurances over the last few months from various senior administration figures, the answer to this question is still far from final.
Iran says US not in a 'position' for war
The Americans have first to agree among themselves on a coherent policy. Beneath the surface, there seems to be a widening rift opening among President George W. Bush's advisers, between those who want to work together with the Democratic Congress, firmly opposed to a US attack on Iran, and pursue a diplomacy-only course, and those who want the military option to remain in clear sight on the table.
This dispute will intensify as two clocks tick away. On the first, the alarm is fixed to go off in January 2009, and its hands point to time left to Bush in office. The dial of the second clock is misted over, allowing only occasional, uncertain glimpse of the time left until Iran achieves a nuclear weapon capability.
The decision-makers in Israel are looking anxiously at both clocks. If one of them goes off, it might be too late. It's impossible to foresee what the policy of the next American president might be after the Iraqi debacle, and the implications of Iran reaching the nuclear threshold, even if it doesn't officially cross it for the time being, are almost too devastating to contemplate.
There are only three options for resolving the issue before the alarms go off. The first seems impossible right now, that Iran will step back from the precipice without a recourse to violence. The limp-wristed way that the not-very-severe sanctions have been implemented and the reluctant voices emanating from the capitals of Europe, doesn't give much hope that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government will give up its dreams of nuclear weaponry.
Which leaves us with an attack on the main nuclear installations. Most Israeli leaders still believe it would be best for the US to carry out such an operation, pulling the world's chestnuts out of the fire and reducing the possible repercussions for Israel, though it is inconceivable that even a successful American attack on Iran wouldn't spill over to us.
The third possibility, that Israel will have to go it alone, might carry a larger potential for damage, in terms of men and machines lost, reprisals by Iran and its proxies, and in diplomatic criticism, but there is a view, minority but growing, that not only would Israel have done a favor for its American ally by taking out an international threat at a time when political troubles at home ties the president's hands, an Israeli strike on Iran would also be a crucial step toward rebuilding its deterrence, which took a rocking last summer from the Iranians' boys, Hizbullah.
Once a decision to do just that has been taken, the question of an air corridor will be little more than a technicality.