Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On Iran, much opinion, little fact

On Iran, much opinion, little fact

Dan Margalit

The attack against Iran's nuclear program was in full swing in the Israeli media over the weekend. This unprecedented polemic feels like a feeding frenzy fueled by inflated egos. Every commentator thinks he is a king.

But those of us who don't possess a clear, often critical, position — stemming from political motives in many cases — feel the need to review the facts before formulating a stance favoring, or opposing, an Israeli attack on Iran. Politicians and media commentators usually have all the clear-cut answers, which usually smack of derision and contempt for any opposing view. But most of the public is confused. It would help to confront a string of assumptions:

1. U.S. President Barack Obama promised that he would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Why should we believe him any more than we did Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, who solemnly vowed that North Korea would never be allowed to possess nuclear weapons? Obama is no worse than his predecessors, but how is he any better?

2. Channel 2 commentator Amnon Abramovich announced resolutely that striking Iran's nuclear facilities in October 2012 would have the same effect as bombing those facilities in February or March 2013. What makes him so sure? After all, each day that passes gives Tehran the opportunity to protect its nuclear facilities with yet another layer of cement. If an Israeli attack two years ago could have achieved much more to stop Iran than an attack launched today, it stands to reason that an attack in March 2013 would be less effective than an attack in October this year, no? Time is not on our side, or did I misunderstand something?

3. It has been said, on behalf of the IDF's and Mossad's top echelons, that they want to comply with the American request to hold off on attacking Iran until after the U.S. election in November 2012. That's fine — it is their duty to express their true opinion. But it would be nice to know whether these opinions are based on military-operational considerations or on a fear of undermining the steady supply of American military aid to Israel. It is not only the opinions held by Israel's military chiefs that should influence the government when it makes its decision, but also the reasons behind those opinions.

There is also a plethora of political questions: The coalition is divided on the issue, but how is it that the entire opposition agrees that Israel should not attack? Is this an example of "groupthink" — which was once derogatorily assigned to the extreme Left?

The defense minister also owes us an answer: It was reported that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had reservations when it came to the 2007 bombing of the nuclear facility in Syria, and only came on board at the very last vote prior to the attack. It was argued that he feared the effects that the attack would have on the homefront. So what has changed between 2007 and 2012?

And most importantly, all those opposed to an Iran bombing are saying that "there is time." That is a reasonable argument, but they're not addressing the most important issue of all: In case all measures — economic sanctions and American promises — fail, can they promise right now that they would change their minds and support an Israeli military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities? Or, and this is where they become intentionally ambiguous, when it comes down to an Israeli attack or accepting Iran's entry into the nuclear club, what will their stance be? Do they even admit that this is a possibility? In other words, do they prefer an Iranian nuclear bomb over an Israeli bombing?

Personally, I have yet to form an opinion.