Because the U.S. acts only in its own best interest, Israel cannot count on the U.S. to remove the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, either over the next few months in Geneva or later. So far, in the hope that the U.S. would come to its rescue or that the mullahs in Iran would be overthrown, Israel has waited rather than taking action.
While Israel has waited Iran has developed more and more nuclear weapons capability, more and more ability to harden its weapons sites to shield them from an Israeli attack, and more ability to deliver nuclear and non-nuclear missiles to targets inside Israel.
While Israel has waited, the number of missiles aimed at Israel by Iran's allies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza has grown, from a few thousand to 20,000 by 2006 to today's estimates of 60,000 or more. While Israel has waited Syria has been drawn closer into Iran's orbit, becoming a puppet state likely to do Iran's bidding and a particularly worrisome puppet state at that, because of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.
Waiting has not served Israel's need for security. It now faces far more complex dangers than it did a year ago, two years ago, or five years ago. Continuing to wait - and to hope for the U.S. or something to save it -- would likely only worsen Israel's predicament.
Because Iran has been allowed to pursue nuclear capability, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states are pursuing nuclear weapons. If Israel waits much longer, it could be surrounded by nuclear weapons states in Egypt, Jordan and Turkey as well as Iran and Saudi Arabia. None of these countries are stable, any one of them could become an extremist state that decides to rid the region of Israel.
There is never a good time for military action but where Israel and Iran are concerned, now is always better than later.
Now, Iran is preoccupied in securing both Syria and Iraq to its sphere of influence. If Iran succeeds in securing these two states against the Sunni rebels and insurgents that are now at war there, it would represent the biggest gains for the Iranian Empire in centuries. Iran would be loath to risk losing these prizes in a prolonged war with Israel and might decide to minimize or ignore any actions Israel took, just as Syria stayed mum in 2007 after Israel took out the nuclear plant it was building.
Later, the story could be different. Should Iran secure both Syria and Iraq, it would be at the height of its powers, with the battle-hardened armies of Syria and Iraq at its disposal, with a sense of invincibility and with scant reason to fear another confrontation.
Now, Hamas is weak, the weakest it has been in a decade. It has lost the support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and it fears a coup by Egyptians and the Palestinian Authority -- Egypt and Jordan with the Palestinian Authority's blessing in 2008 proposed sending Egyptian troops into Gaza. Hamas once had strong ties to Iran, now those ties are conflicted. If Israel attacked Iran now, Hamas might choose to sit it out.
Later, Hamas might decide to reconcile fully with Iran. Other Sunni states, seeing Iran's rise, are hedging their bets by warming relations with Iran. In this scenario, Hamas would have every reason to reconcile. According to a recent report, even the Palestinian Authority is making moves to renew its relations with Iran, in anticipation that the U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel will fail.
Israel's enemies, in other words, all now have major distractions that will leave them conflicted in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran. But there are other reasons for Israel to attack now, too, these ones dealing with Israel's current friends.
Today, Israel has secret allies in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both of whom fear Iran above all others. Both countries are likely to help Israel in the event Israel strikes Iran without U.S. help.
Egypt's military government, for example, could quell Hamas in Gaza, which has been aiding terrorist attacks on Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula. Hamas must worry that Egypt could retake Gaza, which it ruled prior to the Six Day War. If Egypt covertly tells Hamas to stay out of a confrontation between Israel and Iran, Hamas could well stand down.
Likewise, Saudi Arabia can do a lot covertly. It's thought that Israel could not only use Saudi airspace but a Saudi base in the event of a war. The Saudis, who are the main backers of the Syrian rebels, could ramp up military pressure on Syria at the time of an Israeli attack, pinning down Syrian forces to discourage them from supporting Iran. The Saudis and their Sunni friends in the Gulf could also massively ramp up oil exports, to stop the cost of oil shooting through the roof and upsetting Western economies.
Most importantly, an attack on Iran now would eliminate a harsh condemnation from the United States, which is heading into mid-term elections, with the U.S. Senate up for grabs. President Obama does not want to lose the Senate to the Republicans, yet that might happen if he is seen to side with Iran, which Americans detest, and against Israel, which most Americans, including mainstream Democrats, solidly support. For this reason, the Obama Administration could be counted on to veto the anti-Israel resolutions that would surely arise at the United Nations.
After the November elections, Obama would have no electoral constraints. He might well pile on Israel as would other countries.
If Israel could count on Obama and the U.S., Israel would be prudent to wait and act in concert with the U.S. Because Israel cannot and never could count on either Obama or the U.S, Israel may feel compelled to go it alone, and soon.
This was Lawrence Solomon's presentation to the First Sabina Citron Annual International Conference: Approaching Nuclear Showdown -- Israel, Iran and the U.S. after Geneva, Toronto, Feb 9. For Part 1, click here.
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