Aggression doesn't prove suitability
Livni's test will be the discretion she demonstrates in the face of the Iranian threat and the calls for the use of force against it.
Over the past few weeks, politicians and the media have increasingly been discussing the possibility that Israel will attack Iran's nuclear facilities, against the backdrop of the apparent failure of diplomatic efforts and sanctions aimed at halting Iran's nuclear plans.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told Haaretz that Israel is already preparing such an attack and will hit Iran before the latter acquires a nuclear bomb. "Israel has always said that it will not wait for the bomb to be ready," Kouchner said. "I think that they [the Iranians] know. Everybody knows."
Kouchner is no exception. Columnists and analysts in Israel have been challenging prime-minister designate Tzipi Livni over the past few weeks with the question of whether she will be courageous and determined enough to make "crucial decisions" about Iran - a transparent euphemism meant to refer to a decision about military action.
The political leadership, for its part, has actually been moderating its messages about the Iranian threat. Outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert said Israel must recognize the limits of its power vis-a-vis Iran and not think it alone can succeed where the world's powers have failed. "Let's be more modest, and act within the bounds of our realistic capabilities," Olmert suggested. Livni said Israel would continue to exist alongside a nuclear Iran, saying: "Israel can live and Israel will live."
But under the circumstances, there is increasing concern that Livni will face the pressure - and the temptation - to order military action against Iran, in an effort to remove any doubts about her ability to lead the country and deal with pressure.
The main criticism Livni faced during her primary campaign related to her lack of experience in taking charge of military forces and making decisions about military actions. Even one of her associates, MK Tzachi Hanegbi, wondered during an interview with Haaretz reporter Yossi Verter whether Livni had the "mental fortitude and the resilience" possessed by several previous prime ministers. Hanegbi thinks Israel can attack Iran, if no one else does it in her stead.
If Livni manages to form a government, she should do all she can not to succumb to the temptation of a showcase military operation against Iran. After all, she stood alongside Olmert when he gave in to the temptation of waging war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Among his reasons was a desire to prove that despite his lack of military experience, he was brave and no less suited to lead the country than Ariel Sharon.
Decisions about Iran must be made with the maximum discretion possible, and only on the basis of the strategic situation assessment, the gist of which is: Is Israel capable of thwarting or disrupting, for an extended period, the Iranian nuclear plan on its own? And is the expected price of such an operation - rocket attacks on the home front, terror attacks and a long cycle of violence - worth the risk, even if Israel wins a tactical victory?
Considerations of prestige, public popularity or ratings should not play a role in such a crucial decision. Livni's test will not be her ability to order the Israel Air Force to take off, but the discretion she demonstrates in the face of the Iranian threat and the calls for the use of force against it.