When will the Israelis attack? That's what the world has wondered ever since 1984, when an anonymous source predicted that Iran would develop a nuclear bomb within two years.
Twenty-eight years later, Israeli may have finally set a date for its long-awaited assault according to United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Panetta reportedly told David Ignatius of the Washington Post that Israel is likely to strike Iran sometime in April, May, or June of this year.
According to Panetta, the Israelis believe that Iran will soon enter what they call the "zone of immunity," which sounds like either a science fiction episode or a game of tag. Soon after the Post reported Panetta's remarks, the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that the Israelis were very concerned about Iran's imminent arrival in the Immunity Zone.
But the report raises an intriguing question:
Why did Leon Panetta announce the schedule for Israeli's surprise attack?
In his column, David Ignatius suggests that Panetta was "signaling that Israel is acting on its own." But who exactly did he intend to signal?
There are three possibilities:
1) The world. Ignatius' interpretation seems to be that the U.S. is denying responsibility in advance for the sake of its reputation. But why in advance? There will be plenty of time for U.S. disavowals if and when the attack goes down, and presenting them ahead of time adds little enough to their credibility.
2) Israel. Panetta could be trying to deter the Israelis by telling them: You're on your own. But the Israelis clearly get that, and it does not seem to bother them. According to Ignatius, it was an Israeli official who advised the United States, "You stay to the side, and let us do it." Moreover, the one-two Immunity Zone punch by the two defense chiefs suggests that these remarks were a little too well coordinated for the chiefs to be at odds.
3) Iran. At a moment when the U.S. is pressuring Iran as a hard as it can short of military action, it's a good bet that Panetta and Barak are playing the old good-cop-bad-cop routine on Ayatollah Khamenei.
But there is a fourth option suggested by the ominous transcontinental echo of the words, "immunity zone." Why call it an immunity zone? Why not just say that Iran will soon be too fortified to attack.
Because immunity zone sounds a lot scarier, as if Iran will soon pass some mysterious threshold that has eluded it for the past twenty-eight years, at which point it will become invulnerable.
Those of us who grew up with the Star Wars trilogy are familiar enough with the narrative. In Return of the Jedi, the Empire was building a new improved Death Star that when completed would be impregnable to attack. The rebel alliance had to destroy it...before it was too late!
In other words, the Immunity Zone is classic war propaganda, the beating of the drums that incites the people to support an imminent act of aggression. If that is the case, then Panetta and Barak intended to send a signal to us.
H/T to artappraiser for the news flash