Israeli historian Benny Morris says Israel is likely to pre-empt diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from going nuclear and launch a strike on its nuclear facilities.
"Israel will almost surely attack Iran's nuclear sites in the next four to seven months" Morris wrote in a July 18 op-ed in The New York Times.
Morris, who is also a professor of Middle Eastern history at Ben-Gurion University, tells NPR's Robert Siegel that "diplomacy has been going on for the past five years, as well as some economic sanctions, and they don't seem to be working. And there is no reason to expect them to work in the future.
"I think Iran is bound for nuclear weaponry, I think they are resolved to get it, and I think that if they get it, there is every chance they will use it against Israel. And that's why Israel feels threatened," Morris says.
His timeline of four to seven months for an Israeli attack is based on advances in Iran's nuclear program. "The closer it gets to a point of no return, the more Israel must consider the military option," Morris says. Iran is installing anti-aircraft defenses from Russia, and he believes Israel would want to strike Iran before these missiles are operational.
"Israel is also reliant on American cooperation — maybe support politically, in some ways military — and they will get that from [President] Bush, who is a very true and trusted friend. And they, perhaps in Israel, don't know what to expect from the next American president," Morris says.
Israel's nuclear arsenal has existed for 40 years. In that time, Morris says, Israel has never threatened to launch its missiles at another country. But, he points out, Iran has directed such threats at Israel for several years, even before it has the technology to carry them out.
So Morris believes that Tehran "may not be deterred like rational people have been by the threat of mutual destruction."
The responsible course of action for Israel's leaders is one that does not rely on deterrence, he says.
"The Iranian regime is driven by a religious orthodoxy which believes in messianic redemption, which believes that Allah will guard them, so I wouldn't rely on deterrence working because these people are not rational by our light," Morris says.
"I am sure an element of self-defense enters into the Iranian nuclear project as one of its driving forces," Morris says. "They want to be a powerful state in the neighborhood, and powerful in a deterrent way vis-a-vis various countries around them."