Burning Issues #16: Upping the anti-Iran rhetoric?

olmert finger raised 298 (photo credit: AP)
olmert finger raised 298
(photo credit: AP)
Burning Issues brings our best opinion writers to one podium, where they respond, in brief and in real time, to a question about one of the hottest news topics on the agenda. Our aim is also to get you, our readers, involved, by sharing your opinions with the JPost community, or if you wish, by responding to any specific posting. Burning Issues 1-15: Last three: Gaza cease-fire, Kadima, The Future of US Jewry.

Question #16

Israeli leaders have recently made more and more statements regarding the Iranian nuclear threat and the prospects of an Israeli attack. In an unprecedented statement by an Israeli leader, Prime Minister Olmert indicated to German TV on Monday that Israel has nuclear weapons. Last month, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told the 'Post' that Israel "was not advocating Israeli preemptive military action against Iran" but that "even the last resort is sometimes the only resort." Which strategy would be in Israel's best interest: Gradually upping the anti-Iran rhetoric or keeping mum on the entire subject? Contributions by Saul Singer, Daniel Pipes, Isi Leibler, Barbara Sofer, Daoud Kuttab, Jonathan Tobin and MJ Rosenberg. Saul Singer: Israel has until recently tried to remain in the background on the Iranian nuclear issue. This was wise, since it was important that the threat not be perceived as only Israel's problem. But the US midterm elections, the appointment of Robert Gates as US Secretary of Defense, and the Baker-Hamilton report have all tipped the scales in favor of a more vocal Israeli policy. These three new factors indicate, but fortunately do not ensure, that the US has decided that it will not lead the West in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. If the US is leaning toward such an abdication of responsibility, Israel has no choice but to sound the alarm. Sounding the alarm has two primary components: 1) Spelling out the international consequences of allowing totalitarian Islamists gain weapons of mass destruction and, 2) Making it clear that Israel will be forced to take military action, despite the dangers this might pose both for Israel and for other countries. In effect, Israel needs to present the international community with a choice: a messier, less effective, Israeli solution or a much more effective and possibly even non-military solution led by the US and Europe. It is important, even in the new context, to emphasize that Israel's preferred option is not to act alone, and not even to be in the lead, but that if the West continues to do nothing, acting alone will likely become the least worst option. Interesting Times: Content is king Barbara Sofer: We should be keeping our cards to our proverbial chests. Nothing sounds as foolish as bluster. Just because reporters ask for responses is no reason that leaders have to give them. Remember the boasting that the Scud Missiles of the Gulf War could never even come close to Israel and that if they did, anti-missile systems would "slice them like salami." Such proclamations make me wince and do just the opposite of re-assuring me. Israel's strength was never underestimated because we maintained a no-talk policy about nuclear arms or weapon development. Nor do I need to have an appreciation of the personality of our intelligence leadership. This should be a sober time for us in which we can regain national and international confidence by an absolute No-Swagger Policy. Our Defense Department should be quietly recruiting the best minds from every sector, every institution of higher learning, (including yeshivot) and every industry to confront this very real danger. The Human Spirit: Jerusalem the wondrous Isi Leibler: Most current Israeli politicians including Prime Minister Olmert share an affliction commonly described as "flapping gums" - an inability to resist the temptation of making pronouncements to the media on crucial issue concerning which they have no understanding. We also have ministers irresponsibly squabbling amongst themselves and indulging in outright demagoguery in order to capture a headline. The prime minister and his cabinet have three important roles to fulfill. Firstly they must intensify international efforts to persuade others that the Iranians pose a threat to the entire world not merely Israel. Secondly, they must reassure Israelis that the IDF has sufficient resources to deter any nation from launching a nuclear attack. They should repeatedly stress that any such act will lead to total devastation of the aggressor. Finally, should we contemplate a military strike? Not having access to intelligence I would not hazard an opinion. But we should avoid making bombastic threats. If a military strike is feasible and it is deemed to be in the national interest, we should act expeditiously when the time is ripe. If it is decided not to proceed with a military response, empty threats not only compromise our credibility but in the long run also undermine our deterrence. Keeping our enemies in the dark as to our intentions should be the basis of our approach under all circumstances. However the most pressing responsibility of our leadership should be to consult with experts and determine a strategic policy. The cabinet should subsequently insist that any minister publicly dissenting from this approach would be dismissed instantaneously .The government would then be leading the nation rather than behaving like an undisciplined rabble. A response to Al Jazeera MJ Rosenberg: I don't think it much matters how high the rhetoric is turned up. Both Iran and Israel are pretty notorious for over-the-top rhetoric and I don't think much attention is paid. I don't care much about what Iran says but Theodore Roosevelt's "Speak softly and carry a big stick" mantra would not be a bad idea for Israel to adopt for a change. After all, everyone knows that Israel has the capability and the determination to respond to Iran. Better than rhetoric, Israel is, I assume, exploring every possible option to neutralize the Iranian threat, both diplomatically and militarily. That has to include doing whatever it takes to cement the ceasefire with the Palestinians and move swiftly toward negotiations. As Yitzhak Rabin foresaw, an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that ends that conflict is essential to neutralizing Iran. That is obvious but I see Israel allowing this ceasefire opportunity to pass away by simply letting the Palestinians blow the opportunity. Instead, it should be doing everything it can to make a Palestinian unity government happen (surely there are inducements Israel can offer) and get the talks going. I won't hold my breath. Last point on rhetoric. Netanyahu-type crying about how the next Holocaust looms is the least productive analogy anyone can make. Suggesting that Jews are on the verge of being marched to gas chambers is both deeply offensive and sends the wrong message - that Israelis are terrified. That is the last thing a thug like Ahmedinejad needs to hear. In Washington: The Right is scared Jonathan Tobin: Is it better for Israel to keep quiet about Iran? If I believed that a military threat on the part of either Israel or the United States was credible, then perhaps talking softly while carrying a big stick would be the correct strategy. The problem is, it's hard to believe that either Israel or the United States are really serious about using force to halt the Iranian nuclear project. And I suspect that is no secret to anyone in Teheran. The United States is so heavily committed in Iraq that even if President Bush has the backbone to avoid succumbing to the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group's idiotic suggestions to appease Iran and Syria, that military action against Iran is unlikely. And while it is a pleasing fantasy to imagine that Israel could duplicate its 1981 feat of knocking the Iraqi nuclear project, it is equally hard to believe that it is has the political will - or the military muscle - to take on Teheran by itself. So what choice does Israel really have but to go on speaking publicly about the existential threat to the Jewish State posed by Iran? The foreign policy "realists" - who either downplay the extent of the threat or foolishly think they can buy or appease the Iranians - want the rhetoric on Iran toned down because it undermines support for their do-nothing policy. So while it is far from clear that Israeli saber rattling or pleas for assistance on this issue are having any positive effect, they at least serve to keep the spotlight on the threat from Iran at a time when the appeasers want it off the radar screen. That is reason enough for Israelis - and anyone else with the sense to understand the danger - to keep talking about it. View from America: What price outreach? Daniel Pipes: The historical record suggests that, for several reasons, it is best to signal one's intentions to a potential enemy.
  • The enemy is more likely to take one's policies into account
  • Effective language could serve as a deterrent
  • Other states will have been warned, lessening the diplomatic fall-out if one does take action The major argument against upping the rhetoric would be if one intends to pull off a surprise attack. But precisely because Israeli forces did pull off a surprise attack against the Iraqi nuclear infrastructure in 1981, a repeat seems highly unlikely now. For these reasons, I think Israeli leaders are doing the right thing when they warn the regime in Teheran of the dangers of going down the nuclear weapon path. Scrutinize the ivory tower Daoud Kuttab: The best strategy that Israel can adopt is to keep quiet on this issue. The more they talk about Iranian nukes, the more they expose their own nukes which now have been admitted by none other than the new US defense minister. There is a saying that goes: "If your house is made of glass don't go throwing stones at your neighbors." Divide and conquer