Media reports last week suggested that US President-elect Barack Obama will offer Israel a "nuclear umbrella" to deter an Iranian nuclear strike. Israelis reacted to the news with skepticism and alarm.
Alarm because, if true, the reports indicate that Obama is preparing to reconcile himself and the US under his rule to a nuclear-armed Iran. Even the suggestion that that is true undermines already ineffective diplomatic efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program.
It further confirms for Iranians that the US and its allies will not intervene militarily to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear arms.
Israel views nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran as completely unacceptable, and may still act on its own if all else fails.
Obama's nuclear umbrella is meant to dissuade Israel from launching a solo strike, in addition to being a deterrent against an Iranian nuclear strike on the Jewish state.
But Israelis don't believe that Western powers that were unwilling to do everything to prevent Iran from getting nukes will actually obliterate the Islamic Republic in the event it attacks Israel.
"What is the significance of such guarantee when it comes from those who hesitated to deal with a non-nuclear Iran?" asked one Israeli security expert interviewed by Ha'aretz.
A senior Bush Administration official told the newspaper that Israelis do indeed have reason to be concerned by Obama's intended offer, noting that launching a nuclear strike against Iran after it has already destroyed Israel would present as many, if not more, political and diplomatic problems than preventing Iran from going nuclear in the first place.
"Who will convince the citizen in Kansas that the U.S. needs to get mixed up in a nuclear war because Haifa was bombed? And what is the point of an American response, after Israel's cities are destroyed in an Iranian nuclear strike?"