'Bush may strike Iran near end of term'

But sanctions are having an impact, strategist Shai Feldman tells Post.

shai feldman 298.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
shai feldman 298.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
While arguing that economic sanctions against Teheran still have a chance of bearing fruit, a top strategic expert predicted on Tuesday that the Bush administration could conduct a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities toward the end of its term in office. "I, for one, don't exclude the possibility that the US will act," Shai Feldman, currently director of the Crown Center for Middle East studies at Brandeis University, told an editorial meeting of The Jerusalem Post. "My feeling, though, is that if it will act, it will act in the last months of the administration, mostly because I think that they are inclined to try to give the other options the fullest possible chance." US President George W. Bush, still embroiled in the war in Iraq, would be reluctant to take action against Iran until the the latter part of his term, which concludes on January 20, 2009, Feldman said. "The paradox of this is that the closer you are to a position of being a lame-duck president, the more freedom of action you have," he said. Feldman, a former head of Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said he believed that international sanctions were taking their toll on the Iranians. "Right now it seems that the squeeze is not ineffective," he said. "It's not clear at all in my view at this point that the economic sanctions won't work, and I don't mean the formal sanctions by the UN or by the EU, but more the unilateral pressures that the US and key European countries are putting on Iran through the international financial system. "That feeds into lots of discontent within Iran focused on President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad regarding the economic situation." Feldman said a debate is still raging in the US over whether to engage in a dialogue with Iran (as advocated by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) or continue to isolate it as part of the "axis of evil" (as Vice President Dick Cheney would have it.) "I think that there is incomplete discussion within the US administration on dealing with Iran," he said. "I think there is a monumental debate that is still going on, and it may not be over until January 2009." Sidestepping questions on what Israel should do, he said that while the Iranian issue was always on the table in bilateral talks with the US, this didn't mean that the two countries had synchronized positions. "I think Israel raises this issue with the Americans, and the Americans raise the issue the Israelis, and there is not a JPMG [Joint Political Military Group] meeting in which Iran doesn't come up," he said. "But does this really amount to the two sides coordinating?" Coming out in support of a US dialogue with Teheran, Feldman said the American war in Iraq had left Iran "the sole power in the Persian Gulf." Calling himself "a deterrence theorist," he said he was convinced that deterrence could work because there is a clear address in Iran for dialogue, the regime is aware of the costs of war, and it is sensitive to outside forces. "This is not an isolated regime like North Korea and like Saddam was," he said. "It's a regime that's got extremely good sensors and in the past, it has reacted to international pressures." Nevertheless, he added: "If I were the decision-maker, and everything else failed, and if I were presented with a plausible scenario for military interdiction, I would take that action despite my logical analysis that leads me to believe that actually it's more probable than not that we will be able to establish a stable balance of deterrence with Iran." "I would take [the decision] because of the residual uncertainty that my analysis may be wrong."