Had Günter Grass not written his poem about Israel and Iran, the world would have been none the worse off. There was nothing helpful about his strange contribution to this fraught debate. But how many Westerners who make definitive statements on the Iranian nuclear issue can claim otherwise?
A former director of the Mossad, Efraim Halevy, recently put this into perspective. Asked whether Israel should or should not attack Iran, he replied that he cannot give a definitive answer because he "doesn't know all the facts" and there are "whole host of considerations" not at his disposal.
How refreshing it was to see someone honest enough to say three words which are so rarely heard in discussions of Israel: I'm not sure.
If a man with Halevy's resume, knowledge and insight feels he is not qualified to make a call on Iran then where does that leave those of us outside the Middle East? Who among us can claim a superior, or even equal insight as Halevy into Israeli military capabilities and the Iranian nuclear programme? I know I certainly cannot.
Yet few allow their lack of knowledge to get in the way of them taking a firm stance. Here in Britain there are many who are strongly opposed to Israel striking Iran's facilities - some for basically admirable reasons, many for less admirable reasons, including a fierce, general hatred of Israel, which sadly is becoming more fashionable. Likewise, the pro-military-action camp has both its responsible members and its less desirable elements, including armchair warmongers who call on Israel to unleash the dogs of war, assured by a belief that they are unlikely to be in the crossfire of any immediate Iranian or Iranian-proxy response.
Compelled to comment
Few members of either side could sincerely claim to have arrived at such a definitive stance through any detailed knowledge of the intricacies of Israeli military capability and civil defense structure, nor any grasp of the minutiae of the Iranian nuclear programme.
A pro-Israel blogger
Of course, even without those details to hand it is still reasonable to take both an interest and a broader position on such a potentially weighty issue. I'm a non-Jewish, pro-Israel blogger, so I've often commented. I believe strongly that Israel has not just a right but an absolute duty to do what she must to defend herself against the threat of nuclear aggression from the Iranian regime. Speaking practically, should that include military action? I don't know.
Western debate over Israel's position on the Iranian nuclear programme is symptomatic of a wider reality that Israel faces. More so than any other country, Israel is the one about which outsiders who know little nevertheless speak lots. Ask an average Briton or American what he or she thinks about, say, Sri Lanka’s war with the Tamil Tigers, the nomadic hostilities in Sudan or India’s battle with the Maoists and most will freely admit they do not know enough to comment.
Yet people who know almost nothing about what is going on in Israel nonetheless feel not just permitted to comment on it but compelled to. It is not just the stupidity of this that is objectionable, it is also the hypocrisy. One can only imagine the howls of outrage on the streets of London were Israeli politicians and civilians to start routinely telling us "what you need to do" about the Falkland Islands.
For more than six decades the world has been yelling its opinions at Israel. Behind this seems an implicit resentment of the right of Jewish self-determination. You might have your own state, the world keeps saying, but we will lecture you 24/7 about what you should do with it.
Well, enough already - few people make their best decisions when they are being yelled at. It is time the outside world followed the example of Efraim Halevy and commented on Israeli policy only when we have the insight to do so sincerely.
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Chas Newkey-Burden is an author and journalist. He blogs at oyvagoy.com