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For all the problems it entails, the recent public debate over the Iranian nuclear issue is welcome. Granted, it involves very partial information, disputed statements, reliance on anonymous sources - meaning there's no way to know what interests motivate them - and a constant danger that important information will leak out. But none of this obviates the need for discussion of an issue that affects the fate of every person in this country.

It is hard to understand the rebukes issued by ministers Dan Meridor ("the public discussion is scandalous; we must stop this devil's dance") and Benny Begin ("civil servants are committed to maintaining secrecy. This is an outrageous act"). As long as it revolves around the issue of whether Iran should be attacked in principle and what the ramifications would be, and does not reveal substantive information of strategic importance, there is both sense and purpose to this debate.

It is illegitimate to treat former Mossad chief Meir Dagan as a criminal who violated field security. Dagan has great knowledge and experience of the Iranian issue and has every right, and even obligation, to express his views in public, as long as he doesn't divulge any classified information. It must also be remembered that the military censor is hard at work in the background of this debate.

If the government truly wanted to prevent a debate in principle on the Iranian issue, we would presumably not be witnessing what has been going on in the media in recent days. In contrast to the military operation to bomb Iraq's nuclear reactor - which did not leak to the media before it was carried out - the Iranian issue has been on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's desk since before he even took office. Netanyahu sees the threat posed by an Iranian nuclear bomb as similar to the threat posed by the Nazi regime, and has said so publicly ("The year is 1938 and Iran is Germany"; November 13, 2006).

Moreover, and again in contrast to the Iraqi operation, bombing Iran's nuclear facilities is effectively equivalent to starting a war. The implications of such a decision are liable to be dramatic and painful for the entire Israeli public. Given this, there is great importance to the limited dialogue that is now taking place between the government and the public, and among various parts of the public, regarding the possibility of such an attack.