A threat that’s far from imminent

A THREAT THAT’S FAR FROM IMMINENT…. By one widely-read account, Israel is “getting ready” to bomb Iran. Earlier this week, the Bush/Cheney ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, argued that Israel has just “eight days” to launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear facility.

The Obama administration has explained that the threat isn’t nearly that imminent.

The Obama administration, citing evidence of continued troubles inside Iran’s nuclear program, has persuaded Israel that it would take roughly a year — and perhaps longer — for Iran to complete what one senior official called a “dash” for a nuclear weapon, according to American officials.

Administration officials said they believe the assessment has dimmed the prospect that Israel would pre-emptively strike against the country’s nuclear facilities within the next year, as Israeli officials have suggested in thinly veiled threats.

While Israel reportedly argued that Iran’s program could be up and running within months, the U.S. believes it’s at least a year away — and that a system is in place to detect an acceleration, which would leave time for military strikes if necessary.

So, are Israeli officials inclined to believe the Obama administration’s assessment? Apparently, yes. The NYT noted that Israeli officials “said their assessments were coming into line with the American view,” and both countries have come to believe Iranian success on nuclear development “is unlikely anytime soon.”

Indeed, there’s some evidence that sanctions are having the desired effect.

To block Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the United States and the European Union recently imposed harsh economic sanctions aimed at choking off Iran’s energy supplies and prohibiting foreign banks from doing business with financial institutions inside the country.

Several officials said they believed the mounting cost of the economic sanctions, especially those affecting Iran’s ability to import gasoline and develop its oil fields, has created fissures among Iran’s political elite and forced a debate about the costs of developing nuclear weapons.

That’s the good news. The bad news is all of this does not necessarily preclude a military offensive: “Even as American and Israeli officials agree that the date that Iran is likely to have a nuclear weapon has been pushed into the future, that does not mean that Israel has abandoned the idea of a possible military strike.”