Trigger-happy (on the button)
What the public saw this week was not a sophisticated diplomatic maneuver but rather yet another demonstration of the prime minister's amateurishness. After proving in July that he is trigger-happy, in December he has moved his finger closer to the button as well.
Last month Ehud Olmert paid a visit to the United States. On the way to his destination he made the following statements regarding Israel's nuclear program: In an interview to Newsweek, the prime minister said Tehran should start worrying because Israel has many options for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat. In a briefing to the press pool that accompanied him he announced that Iran would be motivated to compromise on its nuclear program only if it had a reason for fear. And in a speech to the United Jewish Communities in Los Angeles, Olmert declared that Israel will not tolerate a situation in which Iran is in possession of nuclear weapons.
Last week Olmert went to Germany and Italy. In an interview on German television, Olmert scoffed at the idea that Iran could demonstrate the requisite nuclear responsibility, as opposed to nations such as the United States, Russia, France and Israel.
In a responsible country, there is supposed to be a direct connection between the declarations of last month and those of last week. In an organized country, the statements made by the head of state display a consistency of thought throughout. In other words, in a state whose leader is in control of the decision-making process regarding nuclear arms and is also in control of his mouth, the official admission that Israel has nuclear weapons would appear to be a controlled, planned-out action executed as part of its battle against Iran's nuclearization.
Even the circumstances in which the message was uttered, by divine command, would have seemed to be a bit of sophisticated staging in a normal country: as if matter-of-fact, as if a slip of the tongue, as if a mistake that caused the prime minister much embarrassment.
Optimistic Israelis might think that the helm of the ship in which they are sailing is in safe hands; that the manner in which the nuclear cat was let out of the bag of ambiguity was the result of serious consideration and deep discussions by the authorities entrusted with this sensitive subject, and that the wording was chosen carefully in order to explicitly indicate the presence of nuclear arms and to deny it, to both breach the wall of nuclear ambiguity and to leave it whole, to both turn up the flame of warnings to Iran and to preserve the current level of deterrence.
As far as it can be determined, however, Olmert's series of nuclear remarks was not the result of recommendations by the professional bodies in charge of the subject but rather of his personal temperament and diplomatic skills. As far as it is known, the official Israeli policy on nuclear ambiguity has not changed. Israel continues to declare that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the region.
In addition, the international effort now underway to halt the development of Iranian nuclear arms is based partly on this Israeli position, and Jerusalem clearly has no interest in impeding this effort. One might conjecture that Olmert's verbal slip was intended to spur the international community into heightening its efforts to deter Iran from continuing its production of plutonium. This assumption, however, does not make sense in light of the already high awareness of the issue in Europe and the U.S.
Those ignoramuses asking themselves what Olmert really did in light of the fact that, in any case, the entire world knows about Israel's nuclear abilities would be well-advised to pay attention to Prof. Yair Evron, a recognized expert in the field. He says the ambiguity has led the Arab states to accept the existence of the demon in the Israeli cellar. It also contributes to Israel's own restraint: The Israeli systems responsible for the weapons operate on the assumption that the nuclear arms will never be used and are intended for deterrence only. Changing the level of declarations could weaken that barrier.
The conclusion: What the public saw this week was not a sophisticated diplomatic maneuver but rather yet another demonstration of the prime minister's amateurishness. After proving in July that he is trigger-happy, in December he has moved his finger closer to the button as well.