U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon is now in Israel for talks with top officials. The Telegraphreports that while Washington claims the visit is routine, "Israel's option of launching a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities was expected to be the urgent topic of discussion."
Israel has indeed been getting some further unfriendly messages from Iran lately. Last week Iran attacked or attempted to attack Israeli diplomats in Azerbaijan, India, and Thailand, with Israeli sources warning of further attempts. Currently two Iranian warships have docked at Syria's port of Tartus.
Yet the message from Washington continues to be -- don't do anything, the situation's under control. It was further amplified over the weekend by Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who told CNN:
It's not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran. A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn't achieve their [Israel's] long-term objectives…. We are of the opinion that Iran is a rational actor. We also know, or we believe we know, that the Iranian regime has not decided to make a nuclear weapon.
Those finely attuned to Iran's rationality could feel further encouraged by its recent letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, which proposes yet another round of nuclear talks and promises "new initiatives." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it an "important step." State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was more restrained, noting that "we've had negotiations that… ate up a lot of time and didn't go where they needed to go."
But is it rational to view Iran as rational? Steadily mounting evidence says no.
Last week Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu asserted that the sanctions on Iran are not working, and "if anybody needed a reminder… it was the guided tour by Iran's president in the centrifuge hall." He was referring to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's proud flaunting of Iran's new, domestically produced nuclear fuel rods at a Tehran reactor.
They send children into mine fields, they have suicide bombers, they send tens of thousands of rockets into our cities and towns. Such a regime should obviously not have an atomic bomb….
The Israeli leader, though, is not the only one with a grim assessment of the sanctions' effectiveness. The Guardianreported on Friday that U.S. officials "are increasingly convinced that sanctions will not deter Tehran" from pursuing nukes, and that "the US will be left with no option but to launch an attack on Iran or watch Israel do so."
The Guardianquotes one U.S. official saying the "problem is that the guys in Tehran are behaving like sanctions don't matter, like their economy isn't collapsing, like Israel isn't going to do anything." And another one: "We don't see a way forward. The record shows that there is nothing to work with."
And at a meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess said Iran is "not close" to stopping its nuclear program. Yet, while allowing that "Iran's technical advances, particularly in uranium enrichment" mean Iran is "more than capable" of producing a weapon, Burgess said that decision would be made by Supreme Leader Ali Khameini -- who "would base [it] on a cost-benefit analysis," something that "plays to the value of sanctions…."
Again, that strange mix of recognition and denial of reality, as if to say: yes, there is a threat, but we're dealing with it effectively even though the indications are that we're not.
The Iran-as-rational-actor notion is even harder to sustain in light of mounting concerns about Iranian terror attacks on U.S. soil. Such worries are, of course, more than plausible given Iran's plot, uncovered last October, to murder the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in a Washington restaurant.
Meanwhile Britain's Sky News reports that "Iran and al Qaeda's core leadership… have established an 'operational relationship' amid fears the terror group is planning a spectacular attack against the West." Sky News says it has seen a "secret intelligence memo" that states:
Against the background of intensive co-operation over recent months between Iran and al Qaeda -- with a view to conducting a joint attack against Western targets overseas…Iran has significantly stepped up its investment, maintenance and improvement of operational and intelligence ties with the al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan in recent months.
Western refusal to come to grips with the fanatic nature of the mullahs' regime has a long pedigree. Such facts as Ahmadinejad's fervent belief in the Mahdi -- the mystical Shiite redeemer whose arrival, he believes, can be hastened with violent chaos -- will not impress those determined not to be impressed by them.
But in trying to get Israel -- smack in the Middle East and with much direct experience of it -- to wait contentedly for Tehran to apply "cost-benefit" calculations, the Obama administration has its work cut out for it.