A highly-polarized style of language has been adopted recently in an unbridled debate. On one side are warnings of a "sharp sword" placed against one's throat. At the other extreme is "the blackest banner." ("Setting out for war," according to a paid notice in Haaretz on August 8, is "a reckless gamble over which flies the blackest of banners." ) The former, adventurist language is used by the defense minster, the prime minister, the majority of cabinet members and eight senior government ministers. The restrained and responsible second group is headed by writer Yoram Kaniuk, former MK and government minister Shulamit Aloni, author Sami Michael and others.

The language of a "reckless gamble" recalls the England of Neville Chamberlain. "In war," important intellectuals protested on the eve of World War II, "there are only losers." The Times of London, the most subdued and respected newspaper of that era, wrote that the warmonger Winston Churchill should be tried in court, shot or hanged. ("You were given the choice between war and dishonor," Churchill said to Chamberlain after he signed the Munich Pact with Hitler. "You chose dishonor, and you will have war." )

Only after Germany violated the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement and attacked the Soviet Union did these same enlightened intellectuals jump on the bandwagon and urge Churchill to spill the blood of young Britons. In order, of course, to save the "advanced world" of "tomorrow."

No leader can know for certain just how sharp the sword is. The impact of an Israeli attack on Iran can only be estimated by simulations, and their outcomes change from one set of war games to another. In the end, however, if anyone has a complete battery of military, political economic and social information that can help him reach a decision, it is usually someone in the highest governmental ranks.

Officials at this level of government have apparently reached conclusions diametrically opposed to those of experts who, as we know, have also worked night and day to study the Iranian matter thoroughly. These experts include, for example, singer Ahinoam Nini, Jerusalem Cinematheque founder Lia van Leer, novelist Hadara Lazar, veteran actress Hanna Meron, filmmaker Ari Folman and choreographer Ohad Naharin. All of them, and other experts like them, signed the "blackest of banners" notice in the newspaper.

Another insight rises from the advertisement: those who in the past enthusiastically supported the strategic maneuvers of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, such as bolting Lebanon and the failure to exterminate terror at the start of the first decade of the 21st century, see him now as a "reckless gambler" - marching the nation, with the blackest of banners in his hand, toward war, crying out like Samson, "Let me die with the Philistines!" In other words, the objective situation does not determine action, but rather fixed political ideology does. No contradictory reality is allowed to change this fixation.

I, just a tenderfoot, lacking even a thousandth of the information held by the signers of the notice, am filled with doubts. And these only increased when I saw that many of the signers were people who usually refrain from joining a herd of signatories, and included playwright Yehoshua Sobol, Moshe Dayan's first wife Ruth and his daughter, former MK Yael Dayan, former Foreign Ministry director general Alon Liel, translator Nili Mirsky and people of no particular political hue. After all, I said to myself, it can't be that these people, some of whom are Israel Prize laureates, would express themselves in such an extreme fashion, unless they had solid, undeniable proof in hand that the government was leading us toward destruction.

Even if members of the government are correct in their estimations and plans, it is permissible - and even a duty - to wonder if it is within their abilities, or the abilities' of our military's top commanders, to win such a fateful war. I am among the doubters. Most strategic decisions taken by Ehud Barak in the past, for example, have been mistaken. At the same time, there is a world of difference between having reasonable doubts that are above political and personal divisions, and creating panic with reckless language taken from baseless and irresponsible imaginings.