The debate on Iran

We are divided enough on so many things; when it come to existential threats, let’s stick together and present a united front.

Iranian nuclear negotiator Jalili with Davutoglu 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian nuclear negotiator Jalili with Davutoglu 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Are you for or against an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities? This has become a key question for public debate in Israel, and typically, almost everyone has a strong opinion one way or another.
It is a decision that should be discussed behind closed doors, and one that needs to be made by the prime minister and his government – not the public. It has, however, become a source of speculation on radio and television programs, and fills the pages of the country’s newspapers.
Few can escape the often interesting media leaks and enticing statements by current and former diplomatic and security officials. Take, for example, the statement by former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy to The New York Times last week.
“If I were an Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks,” Halevy said, fueling speculation of an imminent strike. The context of the quotation was a Times report that some American officials believe Israel might attack Iran this year.
Another recent example is the comment of former Military Intelligence head Maj.-Gen. (res.) Aharon Ze’evi Farkash, who said Israel is unlikely to strike Iran right before the US presidential elections on November 6.
“I think that within this window, it is difficult to imagine that something will happen a month before elections,” he told Jerusalem Post military correspondent Yaakov Katz.
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was reported to have again asked Israeli leaders during his visit last week not to attack Iran. Panetta reportedly shared with Israel a US contingency plan to hit Iran if international talks and sanctions fail.
In the same vein, Michele Flournoy – a former US undersecretary of defense for policy – told the Post that Israel can rely on Barack Obama to stop a nuclear Iran.
A few days earlier, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s adviser, Dan Senor, told reporters that Romney would back an Israeli strike on Iran. But the candidate himself was careful not to repeat this in his own words, saying only that Israel has the right to defend itself.
After Israeli press reports quoting senior security officials opposing an attack on Iran at this time, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared that the decision would be ultimately made by him and his government – and not by the defense establishment.
At the same time, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz stressed that the IDF is ready to take action if ordered to do so by the government.
Former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld joined the fray this weekend in an interview with Fox News, saying he agreed with Netanyahu that sanctions weren’t proving effective.
He also rejected claims from detractors that an Israeli military move against Iran would not have a lasting impact on its nuclear program.
“I don’t think that Israel has to destroy all of Iran’s nuclear capability,” said Rumsfeld. “Iran is a sophisticated country. They have deeply buried sites. And I’m sure the Israelis know precisely what they currently have. All the Israelis need to do is delay them.”
So what are we to make of this very public discourse on Iran? Is it all a brilliant bluff, or is an Israeli strike a real option? While just a few people may know the answer, the irony is that international negotiations and sanctions on Iran can be effective only if there is a credible military threat, as Netanyahu has said repeatedly.
But if they don’t work, will Netanyahu follow through on the threat and give the green light for an attack? Whatever the answer to that question is, it is clear that Israelis should brace themselves for the possibility, but not panic or feed hysteria in others. They should follow reports in the media, and listen carefully to Israeli leaders, top IDF officers and, yes, to opposition figures, former officials and experts too.
With threats from Iran, Syria, Gaza and elsewhere, Israelis should upgrade their gas masks, if they haven’t already, and make sure there are safe rooms and shelters in their homes and neighborhoods. They should also take extra safety precautions when traveling abroad.
Above all, let’s not disrupt our normal lives, not give in to fear-mongers, and not allow threats by Iranian leaders to scare us. There is nothing new in last week’s call by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to annihilate Israel, just another reason to take him seriously.
Let’s trust our leaders to make the right decisions when it comes to issues as crucial and complex as Iran, and let’s come together as a nation to support them. We are divided enough on so many things; when it come to existential threats, let’s stick together and present a united front.