Will Israel coordinate any attack on Iran with the United States, or at least give it advance notice? What exactly did President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree to at their recent meeting in Washington, D.C.? We can at least hope that both leaders know what they signed off on, and there will not be a repeat of the awkward situation in the first Lebanon War, in 1982, when Defense Minister Ariel Sharon claimed to have obtained the nod from U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig. Both countries agree that Iran should not be allowed to posses nuclear arms. The immense gap between their positions is one interpretation. When will Iran be defined as "nuclear-capable?" Only in the future, after it assembles a nuclear bomb, or already now, when it is enriching uranium and conducting experiments?
Israel's working assumption is that even if Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons, in the absence of a preventive military strike it is only a matter of time before it does. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this week, Election Day in the United States should be taken into account. If attacking Iran is not that urgent, if it can be postponed until after November 6 - and timed for fair weather, to boot - then this is a discretionary war, not a war of no choice.
A discretionary war is a war of offense: no surprises, with predetermined objectives, not something that hits the country like a bolt from the blue. But it would appear that the only ones this war will take by surprise will be the residents of Israel; especially those who still believe Iranian missiles will not kill more than 500 Israelis, after years of hearing about the strategic danger posed by Iran's Shahab missiles.
Everyone else should immediately demand advance notice from the government of the attack on Iran. No need for the exact hour, but a few weeks' head's-up would be nice.
Advance warning is crucial to thorough preparations in order to minimize casualties and to get ready for the transition period. Cleaning the private bomb shelters, getting extra keys made for the public ones; inspecting the pipes in the shelters, distributing gas masks in the event of chemical weapons, backing up computer systems, establishing emergency centers and hotlines; and, of course, stocking up on supplies of food and water - all these take time.
Advance notice will also allow the rich businessmen, those who will be in charge of rebuilding the economy after the Iranian counterattack, to reserve their flights in time. Arrangements should be made for ordinary citizens to fly abroad for cheap, so as to minimize civilian casualties. And by the way, will there be enough flights to accommodate everyone?
Those who cannot afford the ticket should be given the time and opportunity to move into vacant apartments outside of the main cities. Transportation must be organized in advance, to avoid the kind of impossible traffic jams of the 1991 Gulf War, with its Scud missiles. Unions should also receive advance notice, so as not to waste their strikes on wartime. The same goes for retail chains - they shouldn't be in the position of holding big sales just when they could be jacking up their prices. Early notice could also be given to the state comptroller, so he can ready the investigation team that will be appointed to determine why the necessary preparations were not made for the planned, premeditated war.
The demand for advance notice is no more ridiculous than Barak's hint that it would be best to postpone the attack until after the U.S. election. Not is it less realistic than the possibility that Israel agreed to inform the United States in advance while withholding this knowledge from its own citizens. There is no reason to feel insulted; the United States is, after all, a wonderful and powerful ally. Still, if our government plans to prevent a "nuclear holocaust," it cannot be permitted to leave its citizens defenseless in the face of another "holocaust," the one expected from the Iranian missiles. After the Holocaust many people said "We didn't know," but no one can feign ignorance about this "holocaust." We should be notified in advance so that at least we'll be able to say, "We knew, but we didn't do anything about it."
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