The Debate on Iran Is Running Off the Rails

It is impossible to allay apprehensions regarding the decision makers' judgment. But this does not detract from the leaders' authority to make decisions, even fateful ones.

For a long time now there has been lively public debate around the possibility of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. The debate itself is legitimate; it is a difficult, complex decision with far-reaching strategic, political and security-related consequences. In the eyes of many, it is one of the most momentous decisions in Israel's history.

Of late, however, we have been witness to a massive campaign in the media against an Israeli attack. This, too, is ostensibly legitimate, even if the timing, the scope and the slightly hysterical tone of the campaign raises some questions. But in the past few days the dispute has begun to run off the rails, taking on a style and content that are foreign to democratic discourse.

One can argue over whether or not military action should be taken, over the timing of such action and the required degree of coordination with the United States. But in recent days the dispute has taken a dangerous turn. In the pages of this august newspaper, certain voices have explicitly advocated on behalf of refusing orders and demanded that the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff refrain from carrying out a direct order by the government of Israel. One of them even, very generously, drafted a letter of resignation for the chief of staff. I wonder whether they would make a similar suggestion if the issue were a cabinet resolution ordering the evacuation of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as part of a permanent arrangement with the Palestinians. These statements border on calling for a military putsch and undermine the foundations of Israeli democracy. I am always astonished anew at the sight of those with the high praises of democracy on their lips and the pen of anti-democracy in their hand.

The elected leadership must not only hear, it must also listen carefully to the military and professional echelons and respect their professional autonomy, but the military leaders must execute, faithfully and with dedication, the decisions of the elected government. In Israel's War of Independence David Ben-Gurion took critical decisions against the advice of all the military experts, but they were carried out - sometimes, as in Latrun, with devastating results. When then-GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Dan Harel was asked, on the eve of the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, what he felt when he closed the gate to the Jewish settlers in the Strip for the last time, he said: "The IDF does not choose its tasks." I have no doubt that, were it demanded of him, the chief of staff would do the same tomorrow - and therein lies the secret of the power of the State of Israel.

Some people question the very right of the prime minister and the defense minister, with cabinet approval, to decide on attacking Iran. If taking action in Iran could, heaven forfend, cause the death of hundreds of Israelis, these people say, who gave you the right to sentence them to death? The argument is ridiculous, stupid and anarchistic, since if it were adopted it would spell the end of every national and state entity, including Israel. By the same logic, one could ask who gave Ben-Gurion the authority to declare the State of Israel when he knew this would endanger the entire Yishuv - and which did in fact lead to the death of 6,000 Jews, including 2,000 citizens on the home front.

It is impossible to allay the apprehensions regarding the nature and quality of the judgment of the decision makers, which are grounded in fact. But this does not detract from the authority, the right and the duty of the leaders to make decisions, even fateful ones.

And to the worriers, I can only suggest that next Shabbat they go to services and recite together with me, with great intention and concentration, this sentence from the Prayer for the State of Israel: "Send Thy light and Thy truth to its leaders, officers, and counselors, and direct them with Thy good counsel."