Forget about Iran's nukes for the moment. The real crisis is its drive for advanced surface-to-air missiles.
The recent revelations about Iran's nuclear program -- centering on an enrichment facility buried in a mountain near the holy city of Qom -- have almost certainly intensified the sense of urgency among policymakers in Jerusalem.
Even though the news has triggered a new round of high-stakes diplomacy (including an unusual bilateral meeting between Americans and Iranians), you can bet that Israeli military planning for an attack on the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities has moved into overdrive.
Yet there's another ticking clock the Israelis are worried about that hasn't been in the headlines quite so much.
For years now, Tehran has been working hard to acquire sophisticated Russian antiaircraft missiles that would make it far tougher for Israeli planes to stage a successful attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. One Israeli lawmaker, Zeev Elkin, even warned last week that delivering the missiles could even speed up the timing of an Israeli air raid.
"I hope Moscow understands that the deliveries will at least speed up such events, if not trigger them," Elkin told the Russian daily Kommersant.
Experts estimate that a working Iranian nuclear weapon is still probably at least a year away, depending on a host of contingencies.
But the Russian missiles, which just might ensure that Iran's nuclear installations can be protected from attack, could be delivered at any time. So it's easy to understand why, right now, Israeli minds seem to be focused on the more urgent of these two ticking clocks.
The system in question is the S-300 -- actually something of a catchall term because the name covers several systems of varying ages and levels of effectiveness.
The S-300 is essentially the Russian equivalent of the American Patriot: quick-reaction missiles designed to defend large areas of airspace against incoming airplanes and ballistic missiles.
Although the S-300 has never been tested under combat conditions, military experts have a high opinion of its capabilities -- especially those of the more recent variants like the PMU-2 Favorit (known in the West as the SA-20B), which can track 100 targets while engaging up to 12. It can hit targets as far as 120 miles away.
"It's a high-technology weapon," said Siemon Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks arms shipments around the world. "It has an impact which is not restricted to just two or three square kilometers. It's a major thing."
Source: Foreign Policy