Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Olmert's Nuclear Gaffe

Much has been said about Olmert's gaffe the other day. Was it a mistake or was it deliberate? And even if it was a mistake, is Israel's nuclear program really a secret? And does anyone fool themselves (other than Robert Gates the new U.S. Secretary of Defense) that Iran is embarking on nuclear armarment to defend itself against Israel?

Even before this I read the following piece (read it in full here) in Yediot Acharonot by MK Eitan Cabel.

"Some 80 officers used to sit (perhaps they still do today) on one of the floors at the Pentagon, at the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense in Washington. They were dressed in US army uniforms and they went through paperwork, piles of paperwork. They would read, delete, correct, read again and approve with their own signatures every piece of paper that left the department. They didn't skip a word.

And what is the purpose of this department? Anyone who is anyone in the US armed forces, whether in the African Desert or in the Icebergs of Greenland, who is required to make a public address in front of civilians as American soldiers, is obliged (yes, obliged) to prepare his or her speech in writing long before the event.

The content of the speech must be approved at all levels of command, all the way back to that small department at the pentagon. At the end of the route, the content of the address is either approved or not and returned to the prospective speaker.

And that's how it comes to pass that (hardly) anything ever happens: There are no scandals, no storms and no sensational headlines in the newspapers. Everyone from generals to junior deputies express themselves in the same language. There must be order in the US military.

I once witnessed the criticism of a boring speech set to be delivered at the opening of a US military canteen in Germany. The address was aimed at thanking the base commander, the German neighbors and the mayors of the adjacent cities. I sounded my surprise vociferously. Inside, I ridiculed the drawn out effort devoted to the speech aimed at selling chocolate wafers.

The head of the department noticed my expression of ridicule: "That's the only way to run an empire," he said. "In Israel, where you come from, lack of organization reigns supreme," he concluded with a tone of contempt."

I do feel that as an Israeli society, we need to learn to keep our mouths shut. You hear so many irresponsible statements, so many goverment and police "leaks." It is, frankly, embarrasing that everyone knows the full blown procedings of the government Cabinet meetings, including who insulted whom. It is crazy that in the investigations of Katzav and Ramon, the newspaper publish full insider reports as to what happens within private and confidential Police investigations. More recently, because of the failures of the Lebanon War II, the senior command has been blaming the responsibility on lower-level officers. They have responded by giving their own version to the Press, and once again, all the IDF secrets and dirty linen is brought out to full public view.

Can people not understand that irresponsible speech causes severe harm? We have a culture in Israel of "winging it" (Hakol Beseder!) which allows MK's to all say whatever they like to the world press, and Israel suffers! In government, this should not happen. And the PM should know better.

I will conclude with something I heard on the radio yesterday. A speechwriter was commenting on Olmert's "mishap" and he said that the tragic thing is not what Olmert did say , but rather what he did NOT say. Press conferences and media interviews are all about image and PR, about creating "spin." They are there so that you can get your message over to the world. What Ehud Olmert achived, unfortunately was that he allowing everyone to think about the parity between a nuclear Israel and a nuclear Iran, has if it's fair; they have it so why can't we! He totally missed the boat here. He should have said something to the effects of:

There is one country in the Middle East that has publically stated a desire to obliterate another country. Iran seeks to destroy Israel. Fact! Now, Iran seeks nuclear capability. Fact! The conclusion is that Iran is a danger and Iran must be stopped.

That is the bare facts and tragically, Ehud Olmert, and hence Israel is failing in communicating that stark reality to the World Community.

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