In the final analysis, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan was right after all. His assessment that Iran is not so close to producing a nuclear bomb was widely criticized in the government. Some even claim it was the reason the government refused to extend his term by another year. But now the defense establishment is no longer certain its panic was justified.
In Wednesday's Haaretz, Amos Harel reported Israeli intelligence claims that "Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb," due to a fear of instability in the regime. Under these circumstances, sanctions that are making life hard for Iran have caused its leadership to have second thoughts.
U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was reported to have said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Talking less, threatening less - these are assets of a sane country. Our threats imply that what Israel is actually saying is, "Hold us back." There are limits to our ability to strike at Iran. With all due respect to ourselves, there are also limits to our military capability. We are not America, at best we are dependent on it. Sometimes our threats are exaggerated. After all, we are not the only ones who know how to threaten - Iran also knows how to use scare tactics.
"We must not exacerbate the situation," says Prof. Shlomo Avineri. This means we cannot allow criticism against us to be worse than the danger facing us - the very fact that we would be considered crazy endangers the country.
This week The New York Times columnist Roger Cohen called his column "Don't do it, Bibi," referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname. Cohen was talking about Israel's threats to bomb nuclear installations in Iran. "Don't go there, Mr. Netanyahu. It would be a terrible mistake" to do so before the U.S. elections, wrote Cohen. He said it would affect U.S. President Barack Obama's attitude toward Israel in the future, if he is elected for a second term. Not to mention increasing the danger of radicalization in the heart of the hot Islamic region.
Cohen is not considered a fanatical Israel-lover, in spite of his name. But that doesn't mean that what he writes does not express the feelings of the White House.
Not only are talk and threats not helpful, sometimes they are even harmful. When Netanyahu says that sanctions against Iran are not effective, reality shows he is talking nonsense. Even Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is not behaving very wisely when he reacts to the American approach by saying, "The time has come to switch from talk to action." How is it that these two brilliant minds don't understand that with such scornful talk they are endangering the extraordinary security cooperation between Israel and America?
The belief that sanctions would not stop Iran has proved to be mistaken. The fact is that Iranian leaders are not finding it easy to take the last lethal step. We should recall that when the United States invaded Iraq in 1991, Israel was attacked by Scud missiles in revenge for the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor. Thirty-nine measly Scuds caused panic in the country. Half of the residents fled the Tel Aviv area and the other half drank water and urinated in pots they had prepared in their sealed security rooms.
That means that if the Americans themselves take military action against Iran, we, in any case, will also be attacked by Shahab missiles in the heart of Tel Aviv. Not only from Iran but from the bastions of Hezbollah, perhaps because of our overuse of empty threats. Even more so if we act alone.
Don't think that if the Americans attack we will continue to have a good time in Tel Aviv. During the Second Lebanon War we were not prepared for the daily shelling from the north down to Hadera. We don't have to hear the frequent scaremongering of Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai to know that our ability to absorb such a blow is nothing to write home about.
There is a problematic aspect to every war scenario. In our region, the future is clouded by uncertainty. If we attack on our own, the results are liable to be disastrous. If we sit and do nothing, Iran may take action. In either case, we are liable to be attacked. The question is whether at this time, when Israel is in a hostile environment and is expressing its desire to attack, we have a leadership that can be relied on to make the right decisions.
I'm afraid we have no reason to sleep peacefully.
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