Thursday 23 August 2012

A Damaging Debate

The debate about whether Israel should or should not attack Iran's nuclear facilities has broken out into the public arena in the strangest possible way.  Over last weekend, the press reported a disagreement between the prime minister and the president over whether attacking Iran at this time is the correct course of action.

Indications are that Prime Minister Netanyahu is one of two lone voices calling for Israel to take military action to stop Iran building a nuclear bomb.  Ironically, his only supporter is Defense Minister Ehud Barak.  This is ironic due to the completely opposite ends of the political spectrum that these two politicians come from.  At the moment, however, they are bedfellows in calling for the IDF to act in the near future to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities.  President Shimon Peres is advocating a completely different approach.  He would prefer to allow America to take the lead, and is currently trusting President Barack Obama's approach in waiting to see whether the sanctions will bring the desired result.  Ultimately, Peres is opposed to Israel acting unilaterally against Iran.  Peres, always a dove in his approach over many years, was also opposed to the strike that Israel carried out on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in1981.  We know how crucial that operation ultimately proved to be.

Peres is not alone in Israel in his opposition to an attack on Iran.  From recent press reports, it is understood that the military leadership in the IDF is also opposed to such an attack.  This does not mean that they are not prepared to carry out such an attack, or that they would not do so if the government decided that this is the correct approach.  It is just that military leaders, in their individual and professional capacities, believe that this would not be the best approach.  In addition to this, it is reported from surveys undertaken, that most Israelis also do not support military action.  The Israeli public seems concerned about the safety of the home front in the event of an attack on Iran.  It is well understood that Iran will almost certainly take retaliatory action in the event that there are strikes on her nuclear facilities.  This puts the Israeli public at risk, as Iran's Shihab missiles are armed and ready to fire towards Israeli territory.  Clearly, this nervousness is influencing the view of the general public such that they are opposed to attacking Iran, even if this is by a slim majority.  Some Israelis feel so strongly that we should not be attacking Iran, that an online petition has been launched imploring Israeli air force pilots to reject orders to strike Iran if called upon to do so.  While the prospect of Israel's pilots not carrying out orders is something we could not contemplate, I guess that it does show the strength of the feelings.

The fact that this entire debate is being conducted via the press and in the public, is not positive.  While democratic principles are important in our society, and especially maintaining the right to freedom of speech, I believe that certain discussions are much better held out of the public domain.  This particularly refers to matters of national security, which this clearly is.  It may be true that President Peres should not be interfering in government business, and that he has previously made incorrect calls on whether the IDF should attack targets or not.  I feel, however, that these points should be made directly to him rather via articles in the weekend newspapers.  My choosing to use the media to canvass internal support for their respective positions, the prime minister and the president may have forgotten that our enemies (including Iran) have intelligence officers who are scrutinising every article that is published.  What sort of message are we sending to them?  I believe that sending a message which shows a lack of unity in our government potentially weakens our situation in  the eyes of the Iranians.  If we cannot even agree on the fundamental issue of whether we should be taking military action to protect Israeli sovereignty for ourselves and future generations, how are we expected to agree on more substantial matters?  Iran has reacted as we would expect, by making fun of our internal squabble, and by continuing at full steam to develop a nuclear weapon.

It is a good thing that we have an environment which supports internal debates and disagreements, and that we have the freedom to be able to express ourselves openly in the national media.  Better decisions are often made when there is a minority that disagrees, and that is strong enough to bring the majority to consider their view before the final decision is made.  Where issues relating to how we deal with Iran are concerned, the debate should be held in the well-secured hallowed halls of government and the IDF, and not in the press.  Although we are very used to playing out party political agreements in the media, there are times when this approach is not appropriate.  This is clearly one of those times, and the national security of the country must surely take preference over all other matters.

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