The supreme leader is keen to avoid either of these things, not least because in two months’ time the government will be hosting a new round of parliamentary (Majlis) elections. These polls will be the first elections since the tumultuous presidential elections of 2009. And Khamenei has no choice but to go ahead with them – canceling isn’t an option. The postponement of last year’s city council elections to 2013 (they will now take place alongside the next presidential elections) has already been interpreted as a sign of regime insecurity. To do the same with the upcoming Majlis elections, which are far more important, would give the opposition an even bigger boost. Hardliners within the regime would never forgive him for it…

As a result, attacking Israel in some way could be seen by Iran as the least costly option, diplomatically at least. In the event of such an attack, Persian Gulf countries certainly aren’t going to rush to Israel’s side. And, although they are unlikely to actually explicitly back Iran taking such action (and they are, in fact, quite worried about the prospects of a nuclear Iran), the Arab world is undoubtedly angry with Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the peace process. Israel’s diplomatic isolation was compounded by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s warning to EU powers France, Britain and Germany that they risked making themselves “irrelevant” in the peace process.

This isolation has left Israel dangerously exposed.