Of course, the U.S. election is not the only factor Netanyahu is considering, or even the most important. The timing of when Iran would get its first bomb is at the top of the list. The U.S. intelligence bureaucracy reportedly believes that there is a year or two left. But this is the same bureaucracy that reported falsely in 2007 that Iran “halted its nuclear weapons program” in 2003. Jerusalem has probably concluded the point of no return is sooner, and further delay may be risky, both politically and militarily.
Oddly, the candidate who might benefit most from an early Israeli strike might be none other than Barack Obama. The president who has been campaigning for re-election since the day he took office would probably venture nothing more severe than a mild tut-tut for Israel, especially with the polls close in Florida, where Jewish votes are decisive. Foreign crises always draw attention to the president, who likely would appear resolute as he vowed the Persian Gulf would remain open to oil shipments. Oil prices would spike, but then ebb, and the crisis would pass. It would be ironic if a center-right Israeli prime minister helped re-elect an American president he dislikes by degrading a threat Washington refused to confront.
Christian Whiton was a senior advisor at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration. He is a principal at DC International Advisory.