Gossip about possible attacks on Iran’s nuclear program seems to be everywhere, including the top echelons of the US and Israeli governments. Michael Ledeen discusses the relative credibility of some of these statements here.
He believes that Iranian threats (to close the Strait of Hormuz or to attack American ships, for example) are mostly bluster.
He also suggests that predictions that Israel will attack Iran coming from official US sources (for example, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta) are directed at Iranian ears (additionally, President Obama has added to the pressure by issuing an order to freeze assets of the Iranian government in the US).
I think that there is more to the administration’s talkativeness than just pressuring Iran, unfortunately. It is for domestic consumption as well. There is no doubt that whatever happens this year, even if the struggle is entirely diplomatic, there will be a marked increase in the world oil price. Indeed, even if Iran does nothing, speculation that there will be some kind of conflict will make it happen.
This can’t help the US economy. Therefore it’s important to the administration, in this election year, to ensure that everyone knows that the crisis, whatever form it takes, is an Israeli problem. Any American action, anything that happens to the oil price, or even, in the event of war, to US assets in the Middle East, will be presented as related to the Israel-Iran conflict. This will make it possible for the administration to claim that it is pro-Israel now, while setting the stage to further pressure Israel to withdraw from the territories after the election.
Of course this is nonsense. An Iranian bomb is a huge problem for the Saudi royal family, who might lose their jobs. It is a huge problem for the Gulf states. It is a biggish problem for the Turkish regime, which would like to expand its influence or even become the ‘new Ottoman Empire‘. It is a problem for Europe, which will be exposed to nuclear blackmail. And ultimately, it is a problem for the US, which the Iranian regime considers its main rival for regional domination, the Great Satan which it sees as the most important enemy of Islam in the world.
While the talk from Iran and the US may be partly misdirection, Israel is not bluffing. There is no doubt that the Israeli leadership cannot accept a nuclear Iran (or, indeed, a nuclear Egypt or Saudi Arabia). The Iranian commitment to destroying Israel and killing Jews is for real, whether in a nuclear war or by conventional means under a nuclear umbrella, and Israel takes the threat entirely seriously.