Is Iran trying to provoke Israel to attack it?

On Thursday, the anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the regime's puppet thug of a president announced that Iran had succeeded in enriching uranium by 20%--the threshold considered "highly enriched." As internet and other informational media were all but shut down to limit the ability of dissenters to organize, and anti-regime protesters were beaten, gassed, and imprisoned, Ahmadinejad boasted that the government had the ability to enrich the uranium to much higher levels (i.e. to weapons-grade material), but has no need to do so because it nuclear program is purely for  "peaceful purposes."  Right.

Meanwhile, the feckless Obama White House continues its silence on human rights violations in Iran, while prattling on about tough sanctions against Iran's "unacceptable" behavior, and dismissing Ahmadinejad's latest claims as based on "politics not on physics." 

Clearly, Thursday's pugnacious speech was intended to taunt the US and its western allies in the UN, as they flail about trying to devise a package of meaningful sanctions that Russia and China will support (good luck with that).  But might Ahmadinejad and his theocratic masters have another aim in mind?  

To wit, is Iran doing all it can to provoke Israel into attacking its enrichment facilities? Despite explicitly warning Israel against any military response, it could be that such a reaction is precisely what is hoped for.  As defense analyst Brent Talbot persuasively argues, it is a question of when, not if Israel will attempt to take out Iranian nuclear sites; Israel's use of the term "unacceptable" is considerably more absolute than that of our president.  Faced with the alternative of nuclear annihilation, Israel will bear whatever consequences associated with attacking Iran's nuclear facilities. 

So why would Iran desire such an attack?  A number of reasons are plausible. First, Israel's operation almost certainly would be limited to destroying Iran's enrichment sites, and not unseating the regime.  Second, such an attack would likely cause the Iranian people to rally around their government; however much they dislike the theocrats, very few would side with Israel in a fight.  Third, the attack would legitimize Iranian retaliation.  Lobbing a few ballistic missiles into Israel would not only fulfill one of Ahmedinejad's long-standing threats, it would enhance Iran's standing in the Islamic world.  That such an exchange could ignite a regional war-or worse-is perhaps a risk the regime is willing to run.

Regardless of motive however, the course that Ahmedinejad and the ayatollahs have charted for Iran is deeply concerning, and any sanctions as may be mustered by the US or UN in the days to come are unlikely to be any more effective deterrent that the three previous rounds have been.  Our current administration does not inspire confidence that it is prepared to do much else.