WASHINGTON, June 26 (UPI) -- Israel's message to its only ally, the United States, was quite clear. Either President Bush orders military action, or Israel will have to strike on its own. It can't wait till a new U.S. president is sworn in. Because the new White House tenant could well be Barack Obama. And Obama almost certainly would not approve an Israeli airstrike without first going several extra miles on the U.N. and Western diplomatic track. This could even lead to the kind of rift in Israeli-U.S. relations that occurred when President Eisenhower ordered French, British and Israeli forces out of Egypt during the 1956 Suez War.
America's allies had sprung a strategic deception surprise on the United States by invading Egypt to put the Suez Canal, nationalized by Gamal Abdel Nasser, back under international control. The Soviet Union then ordered Warsaw Pact forces to invade Hungary to suppress an anti-communist revolution.
Thus, the invasion of Suez drained whatever propaganda advantage Eisenhower could have obtained from naked Soviet aggression. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev even felt free to rattle his nuclear "rockets" at the United States and took credit for the humiliatingly hurried Franco-British-Israeli withdrawal from Egypt.
The Hungarian Revolution and the Suez Crisis were two of the most dramatic upheavals in international affairs in the post-World War II era. If Israel were to attack Iran's nuclear facilities while Bush is still the commander in chief, China and Russia might be tempted to take a page out of Khrushchev's geopolitical playbook -- and rattle a few threatening economic missiles.
This, in turn, would be designed to get Sen. Obama, D-Ill., to disassociate himself from any hostile action Israel might have taken against Iran. And if that didn't elicit the desired result, Iran's formidable asymmetrical retaliatory capabilities would be unleashed throughout the Gulf in particular and the Middle East in general. Iran also can make life hell for U.S. forces in Iraq and NATO forces in Afghanistan. With U.S. consumer confidence already at a 16-year low, oil would quickly skyrocket to $400 or $500 a barrel.
If, on the other hand, John McCain moves into the White House on the afternoon of Jan. 20, 2009, he presumably would approve of Israeli bombing raids and cruise-missile strikes against Iran's nascent nuclear weapons capability. There is only one thing worse than bombing Iran, McCain has said, and that is an Iranian nuclear bomb.
McCain is also privately critical of Bush's reluctance to cross the border from Iraq into Iran to attack Al Quds barracks housing the Revolutionary Guards' Special Forces who smuggled into Iraq a steady stream of improvised explosive devices that kill and maim American soldiers.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen will be in Israel next weekend, where he will hear the same simple message: If you don't, we have to -- and will.
On May 28 and June 12, in a double-barreled exercise code-named "Glorious Spartan 08," more than 100 Israeli F-16s and F-15s and air-to-air refueling tankers engaged in exercises over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece, 900 miles from home bases. Greece cooperated in what Athens called joint maneuvers. For Jerusalem, it was a demonstration of Israel's capabilities and readiness to strike Iranian targets.
With French know-how at first, Israel began building a nuclear arsenal in the 1950s. Today, Israel is a major nuclear weapons power with an estimated 200 warheads. But Israel's political leadership, reflecting public opinion, is convinced it is living an existential crisis and that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's extremist threats to snuff out Zionism could destroy the Jewish state with one city-busting weapon in the nose cone of an Iranian missile.
Notwithstanding four unsuccessful U.N. Security Council sanction resolutions and countless juicy carrots spurned by Tehran (including technological and financial assistance for a modern nuclear power industry), diplomats recoil in horror at the mere mention of Israeli and/or U.S. attacks on Iran. International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei says any attack on Iran would turn the entire region into a "ball of fire" and he would resign.
But ElBaradei still talks the talk, if not the walk, when he accuses Iran of holding back information needed to clarify intelligence reports it had secretly researched nuclear bomb-making, concealed from the prying eyes of his inspectors.
Ranking U.S. and European diplomats say there is still plenty of leeway for diplomacy coupled with increased sanctions pressure. They point out that verbal bomb-thrower Ahmadinejad does not control Iran's nuclear establishment, which is in the hands of Supreme Religious Leader Ali Khamenei, who keeps pledging Iran is not interested in nukes, only nuclear power. Also encouraging is that one of Ahmadinejad's bitter political opponents, former chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, was recently elected to the powerful position of speaker of Parliament -- and may unseat Ahmadinejad in 2009 elections.
That Iran is a wanna-be nuclear weapons power is beyond dispute. A national hero at home for midwifing Pakistan's nuclear arsenal with plans for a uranium enrichment plant stolen from the Netherlands and a villain in the rest of the world for running a black market in nuclear secrets for the benefit of America's enemies, A.Q. Khan sold weapons secrets to Iran's mullahs beginning 23 years ago. It would be a miracle if Iran, which boasts thousands of scientists and engineers, does not have at least one powerful device in one of its many underground facilities, usually adjacent to population centers.
Three former CENTCOM four-stars -- Anthony Zinni, John Abizaid and William J. Fallon -- are on record against bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. Instead, they favor high-level negotiations with Iran's mullah regime. They believe the aim should be a geopolitical deal whereby Iran allows Iraq to consolidate its pro-Western democracy, reins in Hezbollah and Hamas, the United States restores full diplomatic relations, lifts all economic sanctions -- and learns to live with an Iranian bomb. As a sign of peaceful intent, the administration would offer to open a consular section in Tehran to facilitate visas for Iranians wishing to visit the United States.
Four of the world's eight nuclear powers -- Russia, Israel, Pakistan and India -- surround Iran to the north, west and east. Next to these parvenus, Iran/Persia is the only ancient civilization. Like the shah the mullahs overthrew, Iran is determined to achieve the ultimate badge of power. But then, major Arab players -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates -- will want it next.