If Talk Could Kill, We Would Already Be at War With Iran

The Iranian threat became a popular discussion topic with public figures saber-rattling over Iran.

We have not yet decided whether to attack Iran, we have not yet decided whether Iran will attack us. We do not know exactly what they have in their nuclear arsenal and whether we are already threatened. Even American intelligence does not know what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's intentions are and how close he is to making good on his threats. What is clear is that we are prattling on too much about the Iranian threat. If jabbering could kill, no doubt we would have been at war with Iran long ago.

In 1963, we received information that German scientists, experts in developing missiles and unconventional weapons, had been enlisted by the Egyptians to manufacture cobalt bombs and missiles. As usual in such cases in Israel, an argument erupted about whether this was a serious threat and if so, how to respond. Golda Meir and then Mossad chief Isser Harel were in favor of a major operation, while David Ben-Gurion, because of the nascent friendship with Germany and Konrad Adenauer's commitment to Israel's security, was for quiet action.

Indeed, here and there, booby-trapped envelopes were sent, without leaving fingerprints. Quietly, slowly, but surely, the scientists left and the project failed, without declarations and without threats.

For some time now the Iranian threat has been a subject for public discussion, with any public figure who finds a microphone threatening Iran. Shaul Mofaz came out saying that Israel should attack Iran. Ehud Barak, as usual, contradicted himself. One time he directed his barbs at Mofaz, calling the latter's statements "irresponsible." But later Barak himself warned that "time was slipping through our fingers." Barak told Condoleezza Rice on her last visit here that "we will not come to terms with a nuclear Iran and we are not taking any option off the table."

The defense minister's right to say this to the secretary of state is not in dispute, on condition that the statements do not become newspaper headlines; it is highly unlikely that Rice was the one to leak. On another occasion, Barak was quoted as saying: "Without doubt a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran is a central threat to any world order and, moreover, an existential threat to Israel."

Meir Sheetrit, the voice of reason, warned in an interview in Haaretz that under no circumstances should we attack Iran, talk about attacking Iran or even think about it. "An attack at our initiative is a megalomaniac and irresponsible idea," he said. But Barak was also right when he said it is better to speak less about the Iranian threat. "There is no need for unnecessary talk, what should be done must be done when necessary."

With unnecessary talk we burden ourselves with the Iranian threat and make it easier for countries that do not want to get involved, former Israel Air Force chief Eitan Ben-Eliyahu said. The risk to Europe and to American interests in moderate Islamic countries in our region is no greater than the risk to Israel. It is no coincidence that one of the first acts of President Obama was to propose to Russia's Putin: We will not place missiles in Eastern Europe and you will stop assisting Iran. Our threats to act against Iran, if we feel our existence is at risk, might spur the world to increase sanctions and pressure Iran, on condition that we think a thousand times before we are dragged into irreversible verbiage.

The world accepted with understanding Begin's 1981 decision to blow up the nuclear reactor in Iraq. But in Iran there is no clear focal point to attack, as there was in Iraq. In Iran the infrastructure extends over a large area, much of it underground. Thousands of scientists are involved in the project. Taking it out will not be as simple as destroying the reactor in Iraq. Retired senior Mossad man Eliezer Tzafrir was right when he warned that "if Iran's nuclear facilities are bombed, Israel will be attacked with a shower of missiles." Thanks for the warning, but we already know what that is like, having experienced it in the two failed wars launched by the outgoing government.

Especially now, when it seems we are on our way to a narrow and extreme coalition, it is important for Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu to be cautious and more aware of the limitations of Israel's power. Don't prattle on and don't jump in headfirst.