It’s hard to tell how much of this is intimidation or even misdirection, but the war talk coming out of Israel right now is getting pretty serious. WaPo’s David Ignatius sums up the impressions of people in Washington:

[Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want to leave the fate of Israel dependent on American action, which would be triggered by intelligence that Iran is building a bomb, which it hasn’t done yet….

Israeli leaders are said to accept, and even welcome, the prospect of going it alone and demonstrating their resolve at a time when their security is undermined by the Arab Spring.

“You stay to the side, and let us do it,” one Israeli official is said to have advised the United States.

Now no matter what you think about Iran’s nuclear program–a tolerable nuisance, or a Sign of the End Times–it’s pretty clear this is an unusually sensitive moment in U.S.-Israeli relations. Nobody much believes the old “politics ends at the water’s edge” cliche about bipartisanship in U.S. foreign policy (it was never really true in the first place, and was mainly just a slogan used to encourage support for unpopular wars). But direct public interference with biliateral relations with another country accompanied by an explicit promise to undermine the U.S. position is another thing altogether. Yet that’s pretty much what Republican presidential candidates are doing every time they attack Obama for allowing “an inch” of difference to exist between U.S. and Israeli positions on Iran or anything else, and essentially claim Bibi Netanyahu is a better champion of U.S. interests than the elected president of the United States.

Until such time as the imminent threat of a new Middle Eastern war subsides, it might be a good time for Republican candidates to address one of the many foreign policy topics they never discuss (say, the plight of sub-Sarahan Africa). It’s also one of the better arguments for hoping Mitt Romney nails the nomination down relatively soon. Another few weeks of hearing GOP candidates attack the president as gutless and incompetent, as they compete to see who is most avid to support Israeli military strikes on Iran, is a scenario not likely to help U.S. diplomacy keep the peace.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.