First is Ehud Barak's candid interview in a piece in the the New York Times on January 25. The article gives the sense that the time has arrived. Particularly here:
1. Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran’s nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project? And can the military and the Israeli people withstand the inevitable counterattack?
2. Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?
3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran’s nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?
For the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged in the mid-1990s, at least some of Israel’s most powerful leaders believe that the response to all of these questions is yes.
And Barak Obama's recent speech to AIPAC (4 March 2012), which probably won't win him friends in the Arab world and will be construed negatively, severely restricting any possibility of progress in his (inevitable) second term on the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire:
"When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism."
The important section is here:
"Let's begin with a basic truth that you all understand: No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel's destruction. And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak and all of Israel's leaders.
A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel's security interests. But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States.
Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the nonproliferation regime that we've done so much to build. There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the world's most volatile regions. It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran's proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia.
And that is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And that is what we have done."
[full text here]
Invoking the world serves to develop an international norm that would legitimize a strike against Iran. The strike would be in the interests of the world. Obama is bowing to the inevitable - that an Israeli strike is seemingly certain and now the diplomats are generating a discourse to accomodate that action so that when it occurs, it will seem an inevitable action, and hence the consequences, whatever they should be, are simply a factor that must be accepted. By the Summer, expect more articles like this one from the BBC online, examining how an Israeli strike might occur.
On the issue of Iran, the Saudis interests are very much aligned with Israel's. The house of Saud has seen the encroachment of Iranian influence into the Middle East through Iraq and now the region has seen allegiances become extremely fluid. A nuclear Iran would be able to pursue much more aggressive foreign policy in the region, without risking retaliation. The bizarre reports of an Iranian assassination attempt on the Saudi ambassador in Washington, pursued via a Mexican cartel only served to highlight the depth of the mutual emnity. Hence Saudi Arabia will be pushing for action, too. The Saudis could offer to ameliorate some of the shockwaves by increasing oil production after the strike.
Moderate views are being drowned out by a larger, more powerful discourse aimed at establishing a normative preference for military action. And building up the image of Iran as barbaric and powerful similarly serves to add to the normative preference.