No time for war talk

No time for war talk

It is easy to sit in a ballroom in Washington, or in a meeting room in Wausau, or a living room in Wayne and argue that Israel should attack Iran. It is easy because people in Washington, or Wausau, or Wayne – or anywhere else outside Israel, for that matter – believe they will not have to pay the price if it all goes terribly wrong (or even if it goes wonderfully right).

People who think that way are correct, at least as far as the most serious consequences are concerned, but an attack on Iran that does not result in regime change there and cheering parades elsewhere in the region will cost all of us dearly.

No one, however, will pay a higher price than the people of Israel. As the article on page 32 reports, Israel is ill-prepared for what may follow an attack on Iran. “The home front is not ready,” Zeev Bielski is quoted as saying. Bielski should know. He heads the Knesset subcommittee that oversees home defense.

Israel’s much vaunted anti-missile defense systems either are not yet in place (David’s Sling, which may not even be ready by 2013); remain untested in actual combat (the Arrow missile, which was specifically designed against the Shehab missiles, of which Iran has hundreds); or are insufficient to meet the need (it would take at least a dozen Iron Dome installations to protect against Hezbollah’s 40,000 long-range missiles and rockets, yet Israel only has three installations in place).

Commenting on this defense imbalance, Yiftah Shapir said, “Israel should be ready for a long period of attacks, perhaps even months, and this may bring commerce and other aspects of civilian life to a halt.” Shapir is another one who should know. He is director of the military balance project at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.

Shapir also noted that “Israel’s major cities have never come under attack” before. “This will be a very different and difficult experience for Israeli civilians,” he said.

The economic cost will be very high indeed, especially if Shapir is correct and Israel is basically shut down for many months. That cost, however, will pale in comparison to the potential human cost in the event of a sustained missile attack. Nearly 1.7 million Israelis will not be able to take cover in bomb shelters because, incredibly, not enough have been built. Between 25 percent and 40 percent of Israelis will not have gas masks to protect them because, incredibly, not enough masks have been stored up.

Make no mistake about our position. We are not suggesting that Iran should be allowed to obtain nuclear capability of any kind. We are not suggesting that containment is an option, even in the short term. War is almost certainly inevitable and, perhaps, may even be desirable, given that no one really knows how far along Iran is in its quest for a nuclear bomb.

We are saying, however, that it is time for everyone to ratchet down the rhetoric. This discussion has no place in electoral politics. It has no place in fund-raising campaigns, or in publicity stunts. It has no place in Washington, or Wausau, or Wayne.

The lives of real people are at stake. Those people live in Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv, and Haifa, and Modi’in, and on the Golan, and in Sderot. Only they should have a say.