Shmuel L. Gordon

Let them talk about Iran

A candid public debate doesn't threaten the potential success of a military campaign. On the contrary, it keeps the Iranians guessing

Let’s agree that there should be some limitation on the disclosure of details and assessments that could potentially disrupt attempts to damage or destroy the Iranian nuclear project. But despite these limitations, it is unwise — and a waste of time — to try and prevent commentators and publicists from engaging in public debate. Why?

Well, for one thing, most of them have almost no access to the classified data and the knowledge that are essential for formulating reliable estimates and recommendations; i.e. they have poor information on the weapons systems on both sides and on their capabilities and vulnerabilities. (In this context, the term “weapons systems” encompasses command, control, communication, computerized and intelligence systems.)

Commentators and retired security officials aren’t familiar with the political and military capabilities of both sides to initiate and respond in real time, with the deployment and readiness of the opponents, and with the gaps in their defensive and offensive arrays. Thus, they lack the capability to assess the comprehensive balance of the capabilities and vulnerabilities of both parties.

As opposed to Ehud Barak. (illustration: Arie Katz/The Times of Israel)
As opposed to Ehud Barak. (illustration: Arie Katz/The Times of Israel)

Most of those involved in the public debate lack sufficient tools to evaluate the political and economic pressures required to influence the decisions, determination, and persistence of the other party, in the face of severe damage, heavy losses and failures. These are the most consequential unknown factors, since the ultimate objective is not necessarily to destroy the Iranian nuclear infrastructure.

In fact, the objective of economic sanctions, of a covert war against computerized systems and scientists, of diplomatic negotiations and political pressure, is to reverse the decision made by Iran to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. After all, we must remember that “war is simply the continuation of political intercourse with the addition of other means.”

It would therefore seem that the public debate doesn’t threaten Israel’s national security or the potential success of a military campaign. Obviously, sophisticated game rules must be set down in order be thicken the clouds of ambiguity and enhance the dilemma facing the Iranian intelligence services; i.e., how to identify useful (for them) articles and comments in the Israeli press and public sphere. Multiple participants and opinions in the public discussion would constitute post-modern “chaff” that may be much more successful than the chaff of the Second World War.

On the other hand, there must be a tightening of supervision by the Israeli government censor regarding unintended or deliberate leaks of sensitive information. In this respect, it seems that the censor is unable to cope with that prominent mission. However, the temporary assignment of experts with regard to improving the filtration of classified data and information is highly recommended.

The writer wishes to emphasize that he does not have a strong opinion as to the preferred strategy regarding the Iranian nuclear project, because he has no access to the vital knowledge required in order to offer authoritative recommendations.

About the Author
Colonel (res) Shmuel L Gordon has a PhD in International Relations and Strategic Studies from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and has written several books and hundreds of essays on national security, decision-making, strategy, air warfare, and counter-insurgency conflicts. He had a distinguished career in the Israeli Air Force as a fighter pilot and commander. He is the winner of Yitzhak Sade Prize for Defense Literature, the Karmon Prize for Research from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and And the Ben Gurion Prize for Security study from the General Histadrut.