Currently the most prominent discussion is whether to discuss the prospect of Israel attacking Iran's nuclear facilities.
On one side of this argument are extremists who think the public should be involved in a detailed debate about everything: the threat, the way Israel should meet it, perhaps leaving the timing to those behind the curtain.
On the other side of this argument are extremists who think that politicians and commentators can be quieted in the case of an issue that is so sensitive and important, as well as complex in terms of the techniques that might be used, the chances of success, the chances of provoking a massive rain of missiles on Israel from Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, as well as provoking the condemnation of most countries for "making things worse."
In the middle are the rest of us, realizing that it is not possible to insist on quiet in Israel, and that the discussion about a discussion is, in fact, a discussion of the Iranian threat, the likelihood of Israel being able to do something about it, how, and with what consequences.
The issue has been kicked around for several years, with little change about the information available to the public. It is now enjoying one of its periodic places in the headlines due to several factors.
•The International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to issue another one of its reports saying that Iran is intent on producing nuclear weapons.
•Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken advantage of several recent speaking opportunities to emphasize that Iran is the most important threat against Israel as well as against the region and maybe the whole world.
•This week Israel is said to have tested, successfully, a missle capable of carrying a nuclear warhead 5,000 kilometers. By way of comparison, Iran is less than 3,000 kilometers from here.
•Israel has sought to acquire a sixth submarine from Germany, capable of launching nuclear-tipped missiles, to bolster its second strike nuclear capacity in the event that Iran would attack it with nuclear weapons.
•The international media has produced another one of its "an attack is imminent" reports, this one from The Guardian, indicating that Britain is willing to participate in an attack along with the United States.
As far as one can tell from the information in the public sector, a great deal of which may be disinformation meant to scare or lull Iranians, Americans, Israelis, governments of the Middle East and Europe:
•An attack by any country against Iranian facilities may do no more than postpone Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons, as well as intensify Iranian efforts to acquire them. In contrast to the easy targets in Iraq in 1981, or Syria in 2007, Iran's facilities are scattered, with some of them deep underground.
•No matter which country attacks, several are likely to feel a response. Iran has threatened to attack Israel with planes and missiles if the United States attacks. Hizbollah and Hamas are likely to join the effort, especially if Israel is directly involved in the attack. Hizbollah says that it is training its ground force to occupy northern Israel. Syria may see an opportunity to take the patriotic anti-Zionist high road and join in a missle barrage, in the hopes that it will quiet its troubles on the home front.
•No matter how much damage Israel can inflict on Gaza, Lebanon, Iran, and Syria in response to these scenarios, the damage in terms of life and property in Israel is likely to be severe.
We can presume that the people who will make the decision have information that is a lot more detailed. However, one member of the inner cabinet, responsible for such things, has complained about the complexities and uncertainties.
We are hearing that the Prime Minister and Defense Minister are in favor of an attack, and are working to persuade other members who will have to vote on the matter. Current heads of the military, security and intelligence organizations are said to have advised against an attack. Various retired pooh bahs of the security and intelligence communities have said, or hinted, at opposition or support.
Is all this a genuine run-up to an Israeli decision, or yet another round of pressuring greater powers to add to the economic sanctions on Iran, or to do something more forceful?
Ths discussion continues, including the discussion as to whether we ought to be discussing such things.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem