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But Israeli calculations for a preventive strike don't have to be conclusive to be successful. If the Israelis do nothing, they know that they would eventually be staring at an internally unstable, virulently anti-Semitic, terrorist-fond regime with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Simply imagining the probable hair-trigger scenarios in which Israel will have to play atomic-bluff with Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard Corps -- the organization that oversees Iran's nuclear program -- ought to be enough to make any rational nuclear planner shudder. For the first time ever, the same organization that has been responsible for all of the Islamic Republic's terrorist liaison relationships -- including an operationally supportive relationship with al-Qaeda after the 1998 Africa embassy bombings, according to the 9/11 Commission Report -- would control nuclear weapons. Then imagine other Middle Eastern regimes, especially the Saudi state, built upon Wahhabism, also acquiring the bomb in order to counter Iranian Shiite power -- and you can see why the nerves of any Israeli nuclear planner have to be fried. Although it's possible that the American sanctions approach could eventually succeed in producing sufficient internal turmoil to derail the atomic program, the odds of this seem unlikely. The sanctions regime still has too many Russian and Chinese holes, not to mention German breaches, to have a sufficiently crushing effect.
What the Israelis need to do is change this dynamic. A preventive strike offers them the only conceivable alternative for doing so. Any bombing run will, at least temporarily, shock the international system and rock Iran internally. The Israelis will have shown that they are deadly serious about confronting the Iranian nuclear threat, that they are willing to go on a permanent war-footing with the Islamic Republic and its deadliest ally, the Hizbollah, which will probably unleash rocket hell on Israel in turn. Although President Obama may become (privately) furious with the Israelis, any Israeli strike will make the United States, and probably even the reluctant Europeans, more determined to shut down Iran's program. If Khamenei and the Guard Corps respond to an Israeli strike with terrorism, which is likely, then they could well put themselves into a strategic cul-de-sac, especially if they strike out against American targets or do something truly stupid, like trying to shut down the Strait of Hormuz.