Ya'alon's sensible 'gaffe'

His critics charge that he gave away state secrets and that it was not smart of him to say what he said.

yaalon 88 (photo credit: [file])
yaalon 88
(photo credit: [file])
Last week, former IDF chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon caused a ruckus here with a speech he gave in Washington, where he said Israel was militarily capable of dealing a devastating blow to Iran's nuclear program. This week, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joined Ya'alon's critics, calling his remarks "irresponsible." Ya'alon estimated that Iran would know how to build a nuclear weapon in a year and a half, and would be able to build one within three to five years. "There will be a need to attack a few dozen sites. The air forces of Israel, the United States and Europe can carry this out," he said. His critics charge that he gave away state secrets and that it was not smart of him to say what he said.
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The first charge is not credible. If Olmert had said the same thing, no one would have accused him of revealing anything secret by speaking of estimates that are widely known and discussed. There is now a virtual international betting pool composed of leaked guesses from various Western intelligence services and speculation by informed analysts. The second concern is that it is not wise for Israelis to be speaking about such things, either because they are taken as threats that should not be bandied about, or because Israel should not be "taking the lead" in the global confrontation with Iran. Here it is should be noted that Ya'alon did say something new, which is that he envisioned that any military action would be taken jointly by the US and Europe (presumably within the context of NATO) and Israel. This, indeed, marks the refreshing breach of a damaging taboo, namely that Western and Israeli forces must not cooperate in a military operation in a Muslim country. This dogma was so strong during the 1991 Gulf War to eject Iraq from Kuwait that not only was Israel absent from the coalition of Western forces, but even when Israel was hit by Iraqi Scud missiles we were prevailed upon not to respond. The situation in the case of Iran is different in a number of respects. First, Iran, though a Muslim state, is not an Arab nation. Before the ayatollahs came to power in 1979, Israel had relatively close ties with Iran, including direct air connections. Second, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was clearly an inter-Arab matter, while Saddam Hussein's attack against Israel was a desperate attempt to transform it into a branch of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The mullocracy in Iran, by contrast, is currently engaged in aggression against Israel more than against any other state, except perhaps the new government in Iraq. Iran essentially controls Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad, has close ties with Hamas, and has openly called for "wiping Israel off the map" - that is, a genocide against the Jewish people. The threat of a nuclear Iran is a threat against the entire West because it would grant the terror network, including al-Qaida, a nuclear umbrella and allow Iran itself to step up its support for terrorism worldwide. But it is an existential threat against Israel. The most important reason, however, for joint Western-Israeli participation in any potential military effort to cripple Iran's nuclear program is to destroy the anti-Israel taboo itself: the idea that Israeli participation taints the collective Western right of self-defense. This taboo was created by radical Arab rejectionism of Israel. Acting according to its logic is not only a form of appeasement that the West can ill afford, but perpetuates a misunderstanding of our post-9/11 world: that Islamist hatred of the West can be separated from the quest to destroy Israel. In the eyes of militant Islamists, certainly the regime in Teheran, there is no difference between the "Crusaders" and the Jews - or as that regime puts it, the "Great Satan" (America) and the "Little Satan" (Israel). If America or NATO were to automatically exclude Israel from participation in a military operation against Iran's nuclear program, they would be subtly separating out a close Western ally and thereby subtly playing into Islamist demonization of Israel that is essentially no different from the demonization of the West itself. Rather than criticizing Ya'alon for essentially saying as much, Olmert should, albeit delicately and in the appropriate context, be saying it himself.