Sunday, November 19, 2006

If the year were 1938

By Haaretz Editorial

"The year is 1938, Iran is Germany, and it is about to arm itself with nuclear weapons," Benjamin Netanyahu said. The statements, aired the world over, appeared to be the start of an Israeli policy of no restraint, in which the nation called on the former prime minister to say what the current prime minister is not saying. However, was that really what happened last week, or did Netanyahu prepare a brilliant speech to return him to our consciousness, by showing himself to be more aware of the Iranian bomb's gravity than the current prime minister is?

The public has the right to know what the government of Israel is actually doing - aside from talking - about the Iranian threat, and who is really handling the issue. What happened to the prime ministers' forum that was supposed to meet regularly to discuss the growing Iranian threat? Do Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert actually talk with each other, or was one meeting sufficient for publicity purposes, and now each one is using the Iranian issue for his own political ends?

It is hard to relate seriously to the Iranian threat when the prime minister assigns the matter - which he says is of highest importance to the security agenda - to a new, junior government partner, Avigdor Lieberman. What exactly is Lieberman doing with the strategic threats portfolio? What authority does he have? Why did Olmert ask senior administration officials to meet with Lieberman? Is this not a subject that only the prime minister should be discussing with the U.S. president?

Last week, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, Olmert and Netanyahu used new language, in a tone meant to stir concern and suspicion, regarding a subject that used to be discussed only behind closed doors. The senior officials dealing with the matter were shocked to read these statements, whose timing does not appear to have been the product of an orderly thought process but the opportunity to make impressive speeches. There is a sense that there is no policy on any matter, only reactions.

The public does not need to be briefed on the details of the Israeli government's policy toward Iran, and certainly not on operational initiatives, if there are any. However, it has the right to know if such a policy exists and who does what. In view of the grave potential results of failure, the answers should not be left to a committee of inquiry on the day after.

Those who disperse frightening declarations must take into account their likely effect. The world may grow accustomed to the cries of wolf. Perhaps these declarations are turning Iran into a Jewish problem instead of a global problem. Perhaps they are transforming Israel's threats into a source of growing concern, just like the hair-raising rhetoric from Tehran and the Iranian nuclear program.

Hopefully, beyond the public opinion polls, there are still some remnants of responsibility and sense. Lieberman's selection as the minister for Iran indicates an avoidance of responsibility, similar to leaving Sderot's residents to the care of Arkadi Gaydamak. In the next election, a large portion of Israeli citizens may decide to place the country and its future in the hands of these two.

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