There is a debate going on now in the Western intelligence community: Does Iran have 1,300 centrifuges, or 1,700, or 3,000? Are they operating inefficiently, with partial efficiency or perhaps some of them are already operating at maximum efficiency? Has Iran already crossed the technological point of no return, is it crossing that point just now or will it perhaps cross the point of no return by the end of the year?

But there is no doubt about the main issue: This year is a critical one.

When it comes to Iran, this year is a year of decision. If Iran is not stopped this year, then in the summer of 2008 it will be on its way to nuclear hegemony, which means a different Middle East. It also means a different State of Israel. It means a different era.

The international community is making a final effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran. In the UN there is a broad coalition applying moderate economic pressure on Iran, and outside the UN there is a limited coalition that is applying substantial economic pressure on Iran.

But there is no relation between the determination of the international community to prevent an Iranian bomb and the determination of Iran to get one. Therefore, we must take into account that this year Israel will have to make the most important decision in its history: to prepare for the fact that Iran will strike at it in response to any strike at its nuclear project, or to prepare to face a nuclear Iran.

The professional echelons dealing with the nuclear issue are outstanding. In this sensitive area, which is hidden from the eye, sacred work is being done. But, in the final analysis, the decision that Israel may face this year is not a professional one; it is a national one that concerns every one of us. It is a decision that concerns our values, our lifestyle and our very survival. A Ben-Gurionesque decision.

Ehud Olmert is not capable of making Ben-Gurionesque decisions. He does not have the personality to make them nor the moral authority to implement them. Olmert is very good at helping his close friends, he is outstanding at political maneuvering and excels at media manipulation. The upper thousandth percentile has never had as faithful an executor. But anyone who conducted the Second Lebanon War the way Olmert did is not capable of conducting the multidimensional war against Iran.

Anyone who protects Sderot the way Olmert does is not capable of protecting Israel from the nuclear threat. Olmert has to go not only because he failed in the past, but also because he is continuing to fail in the present, and is liable to cause Israel to fail in the not-so-distant future. There will be no return from this future failure; it will be irreversible.

The Winograd Committee had its say on the issue of the national leadership. The Israeli public has also had its say in talkbacks, in public opinion polls and in Rabin Square. But the ruling party, Kadima, whose internal structure is patently anti-democratic, refuses to listen. At a historic moment of unprecedented gravity, its members continue to put their personal interests before the national interest.

So at present the Labor Party is the key. Only an unequivocal choice of Ehud Barak by Labor on May 28 is likely to create change. Only such a choice will place in the Israeli leadership a person who is capable of handling the existential challenge of our 60th year. Such a choice will present an alternative to Olmert and to Benjamin Netanyahu, and will pave the way for the establishment of a national emergency government.

Barak is not David Ben-Gurion either. His shortcomings are known, and his defects are many, but during the present year of crisis, Israel does not have a more worthy leader than he. Therefore partymate Ophir Pines-Paz has to join him and to serve as his moral guide. Ami Ayalon can stand alongside Barak and win the war against corruption. Tzipi Livni is likely to be Barak's partner in a future leadership and a partnership with --Kadima. But only Barak is capable of leading Israel when it confronts the most important decision in its history. The decision of its life.