Summer. It's hot and humid and full of irritants. It's hard to concentrate. And the current scandals are the scandals of summer, too. Intense, juicy and insignificant. Between Dudu Topaz's letter and mourning over the death of Michael Jackson, there's no chance to really think. There's no way to distinguish between policy and gossip, between what's central and what's marginal, between what is of primary and secondary importance. It's time for the petty and the low.
And last weekend Uzi Arad, the prime minister's national security adviser, waded into this summer soup. Despite his forceful image, Arad has a measure of good intentions and a deep feeling of civil responsibility. He therefore hasn't engaged in spin and hasn't read refined messages from prepared texts. In a manner which is no longer accepted around here, he tried to speak with substance.
The national security adviser presented the citizens of Israel with a comprehensive picture of the national security situation. You can agree with him or part company with him. However, you have to appreciate the fact that he presented a well-organized and reasoned doctrine designed to spur serious discussion.
During this hot and humid summer season, there was no chance for serious discussion. Instead of dealing with the important aspects of what Arad had to say, they dealt with trivialities. Did he or didn't he attack Mossad director Meir Dagan? He didn't. Did he or didn't he criticize Ariel Sharon? He did. But all of this is secondary. The real discussion that this same Uzi Arad should have sparked was whether or not there was an outrageous government failure over the past decade. Did or didn't Israel fail to deal with the Iranian threat?
This is not a Mossad question or an Atomic Energy Commission question. The working assumption is that the professional echelon in Israel did everything they were supposed to do - and more. The Israeli James Bond did a great job in dealing with the challenge from Iran. So did the people working behind the scenes, hidden from view, and we owe them our lives.
But the challenge from Iran is not for James Bonds. It is a diplomatic and strategic one. In the diplomatic-strategic realm, Israel failed. The country didn't manage to convince the world that a nuclear Iran would truly pose a threat to world order.
One doesn't need sensitive intelligence material to see this. It's enough to listen to what Nicolas Sarkozy had to say last week: An Israeli attack on Iran would be a disaster. The disaster would not be a nuclear Iran but rather an Israeli attack. And if that's how a friendly president of a powerful and supportive country speaks, it's not hard to guess what less friendly leaders of less supportive countries think. And if that is the picture of the international consensus which is taking shape on the Iranian issue, Israel has failed on the Iranian issue. Sharon, Olmert and Livni have indeed left Netanyahu with scorched earth.
The basic facts should be known. Both an Iranian bomb and an Israeli bombing raid are liable to have dire consequences. In order to avoid the bomb-bombing dilemma, a third alternative is needed: tough diplomacy and maybe even a naval blockade. However, in order for the third way to work, decisive American leadership is needed, with clear European support and the quiet approval of the Russians and Chinese.
Israel's real task earlier in the decade was to make Washington, Brussels, Moscow and Beijing understand this. True, it wasn't an easy task, but it was an essential task, and one which the Israeli governments did not meet.
But the question now is not what the mistakes and failures of former prime ministers were, but rather what can be done at this late hour to turn the situation around.
In this respect, the Netanyahu government has a distinct advantage: It understands the problem in depth. Behind closed doors, it is conducting impressive deliberations. It is working seriously, responsibly and in an orderly fashion.
The Netanyahu administration also has a distinct disadvantage: It is perceived in the West as suspect. It only gets limited attention. Netanyahu therefore has no choice. To achieve a strategic breakthrough on the Iranian front, he will have to make a creative and daring diplomatic proposal on the Palestinian front. The proposal will have to be developed - this summer even - by his trusted strategic adviser, Uzi Arad.
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