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What Israeli warships in the Suez mean for Iranian nuclear ambitions

American op-ed pages have been littered for months with recommendations to U.S. and Israeli policymakers over what to do with the Iranian nuclear problem.

Allow me to catch you up on some of the latest. Marvin G. Weibaum, penning a piece for World Politics Review, argues for working to take the military option off the table. John R. Bolton recently said in The Washington Post that Israel should bite the bullet and hit Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Time’s Joe Klein, meanwhile, has advocated a policy of wait-and-see. These examples but represent the range of punditry on one of the world’s most explosive issues.

With all the chatter, though, about what the west should do over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, one piece of news that has gone under-reported in the west this month gives insight into what Israel may do.

Two Israeli warships and an Israeli submarine have, in the last month, passed through the Suez Canal, bringing the Jewish state’s military apparatus within striking distance of the Shia state. This isn’t the first time that the Israeli navy has teamed up with Egypt to send some of its naval fleet through the waterway. Rather, this piece of news is remarkable because it’s the first time Israel seems to be publicizing it. Egyptian and Israeli officials alike have spoken to the press, emphatically confirming that the operation had taken place.

Israel has long been in a quandary over the logistics of a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. To pull off an air strike, Israel would have to get permission from allies to use their airspace. Near the end of his administration, then-President George W. Bush reportedly denied an Israeli request to fly over Iraq.

Then there was chatter that Israel’s best chance would be to get permission from the Turks. But that, too, never seemed to get off the ground.

Instead, Israel launched a series of well-publicized military exercises in which it rehearsed in-air refueling, signaling its ability to get to Iran the long the way around. But the latest partnership with Egypt represents the first time that Israel has a clear shot at Iran.

While it’s questionable that the passage of Israeli ships through the Suez means that Israel is preparing for an imminent attack on Iran, Israel seems to have solved its biggest strategic hurdle.

And if, as has been widely speculated, the Israeli submarine is armed with nuclear weapons, Israel may now be tactically capable of an even more devastating attack on Iran.

The move also adds another layer of intrigue to the secondary question of where the Arab world stands on the Israel-Iran conflict and how it would react to a cold war turned hot.
Iran and the Arab world have long been at odds, and many in the region view a nuclear Iran as a major threat to Arab interests. Some have speculated that Arab leaders would be quietly pleased if Israel were to do the dirty work and eliminate the threat. Others say that Arab leaders fear Israeli preemption because the consequences of an Israeli attack would result in a dramatic destabilization of the region, with Iran’s Arab allies — Hamas and Hezbollah — called into action against Israel.

Egypt’s allowing Israeli ships, and possibly nukes, to pass through the Suez speaks to the former argument, at least in Egypt’s case.

So let the op-ed writers opine, but the facts are clear. Israel has now found a tactical way to strike Iran. And the Arab world’s most populous nation seems to be nodding its head.