Steven Clemons reports on his blog The Washington Note that:
Multiple sources have reported that a senior aide on Vice President Cheney's national security team has been meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute, one other think tank, and more than one national security consulting house and explicitly stating that Vice President Cheney does not support President Bush's tack towards Condoleezza Rice's diplomatic efforts and fears that the President is taking diplomacy with Iran too seriously.
This White House official has stated to several Washington insiders that Cheney is planning to deploy an "end run strategy" around the President if he and his team lose the policy argument.
The thinking on Cheney's team is to collude with Israel, nudging Israel at some key moment in the ongoing standoff between Iran's nuclear activities and international frustration over this to mount a small-scale conventional strike against Natanz using cruise missiles (i.e., not ballistic missiles).
In an article in the The American Conservative in January, I suggested that the Bush Administration could end-up giving a green light to Israel to attack Iran:
American officials continue to maintain in public that Washington will not sanction unilateral Israeli action against Iran, and according to the Jerusalem Post, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told French officials that she would not be willing “to show understanding for a possible Israeli strike against Iran” in the same way that her boss promised. But the mixed signals coming out of Washington, and the fact that top officials have refrained from stating clearly that they would veto a strike, have led to speculation in Europe that there is some political logic behind what looks like confusion among the Bushies. Is it possible that Bush and Cheney, backed by the remaining neoconservative foot soldiers, are hoping that Israel will soon remake the Osirak ’81 production in Iran? Such an Israeli action could serve not only as preemptive action against Iran but also against the battalions of realist forces led by Baker, Hamilton, Gates, and Brzezinski, who threaten what remains of the neocon agenda.. And I concluded with a warning:
Hopes of an Israeli military action breathe life into the neocon geo-strategic corpse that was buried in Iraq and recall similar wishful thinking on the eve of the American decision to green-light the Israeli attack on Hezbollah’s infrastructure in Lebanon last summer. From the office of the vice president to the Pentagon to AEI and The Weekly Standard, officials, wonks, and scribblers fantasized that it was going to be the Six Day War all over again, that Israel would annihilate the Shi’ite militia and Hassan Nasrallah in the same way that it had left the Egyptian military rotting in Sinai and devastated President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1967. This would strike a major blow to Hezbollah’s patrons, Syria and Iran, and would shift the balance of power in the Middle East in favor of Israel and its sponsor, the United States, which would then be able to regain the momentum in Iraq. Before we knew it, we would have another tipping point in Mesopotamia.
The Israeli operation in Lebanon did serve as a tipping point—by transforming Hezbollah into the most popular anti-Israeli and anti-American force in the Middle East and by shifting the balance of power in the region even further in the direction of Iran. Now just six months after Israel’s fiasco in Lebanon and as the American disaster in Iraq continues to unfold, the usual suspects are once again daydreaming that a lame duck American president will approve military action by a politically drained Israeli prime minister against the leading bad guy in the neoconservative script.
A few days of Israeli bombing may or may not retard the Iranian nuclear program, but it would impede any plan by the realists to engage Iran in an effort to stabilize Iraq, start withdrawing U.S. troops, and change the direction of American policy in the Middle East.
Unlike Steve, I believe that the Olmert government would welcome such a development, hoping that a successful Israeli operation against Iran would not only permit it to surive, but would also deliver a Six-Day-War kind of military blow to Iran in a way that would help transform the balance of power in the region in favor of Israel after the fiasco in Lebanon.