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After years of ambiguity, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has finally lifted the veil on Iran's nuclear secrets and forced even the most sceptical to take sides. Its quarterly report on Iran's nuclear programme released on November 8 was preceded by two weeks of intense speculation about a looming Israeli airstrike.

What to make of the media frenzy — which politicians from Israel's president Shimon Peres to the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu and his defence minister, Ehud Barak, all fuelled with contradictory statements? What to make of a highly publicised joint air exercise in which Israeli and Nato planes practised long-distance military operations with air refuelling? 

Is Israel's air force — the same that bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and the Syrian one in 2007 — gearing up for the most daring airstrike in aviation history?

If Israel were to embark on a difficult, long-distance military strike on Iran's nuclear installations, the first operational requirement is clear skies — something Israel needs to wait for until next spring. Even if the skies were clear, the political horizon is not. From Israel's point of view, the regional environment is the least ideal that it has been for some time.

Iran is aggressively probing Israeli-Egyptian relations by having its client Palestinian Islamic Jihad shoot rockets daily at Israel's southern communities; by propping up a dying regime in Syria; and by deploying in Lebanon a massive arsenal of medium-range missiles ready to rain down on Tel Aviv at a moment's notice. So Israel must choose its timing and targets carefully.

Israel also has to confront renewed terrorism coming from Sinai. It had to evacuate its embassy in Cairo when a rent-a-mob crowd showed up for trouble unimpeded by local security forces. It had to watch helplessly as massive quantities of increasingly dangerous weapons flooded Gaza because of Sinai's increased lawlessness; and it had to allow more and more Egyptian troops into Sinai in breach of the peace treaty on the pretext that they needed to stop the inflow of weapons.

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