Peres Breaks Silence on Possible Attack on Iran — Will It Matter?

Article Summary
Even though Israel's presidents usually don't intefere in politics, Shimon Peres expressed his objection to an Israeli strike against Iran. Former president Yitzhak Navon backed his objection and supported Peres' decision to break the silence, writes Shimon Shiffer. Could Peres' voice become the tie-breaker in the fight over Israeli public opinion?

Make no mistake about President Shimon Peres: he is not always hesitant, he can get angry, and he knows how to say terrible things about people he does not respect. In the three and a half years in which Netanyahu has served as prime minister, Peres has been careful – very careful. Some would say too careful. But on Thursday, [Aug. 16, while interviewed on the occasion of his 89th birthday] the man responsible for Israel’s nuclear project decided he would no longer remain silent.  [Shimon Peres is known as the person behind Israel's nuclear program, having worked for that goal since the mid '50s, when he was appointed director general of the Defense Ministry.]

[PM] Netanyahu and [Defense Minister] Barak managed to make Peres lose his cool. Their behavior, their briefings to media regarding a possible attack on Iran, and especially their contrarian approach to US President Barack Obama set him off. Peres believes that Netanyahu and Barak could lead the country into a horrifying reality the day after an attack, which — as even they admit — would only postpone Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon by a year or a year and a half. Therefore, he decided to make a presidential statement on Thursday, when he warned against the possibility of an Israeli attack without coordination and agreement with the United States. He seemed to be suggesting that such a move is too serious and fateful to be left up to those two — Netanyahu and Barak.

And still, Peres chooses his words carefully. He often says that his role requires he act with caution so as not to cause internal crises or disagreements with the prime minister. From his perspective, as he has explained behind closed doors, if he is going to be critical of Netanyahu, he prefers to express his opinion on [Netanyahu's] foot-dragging on the Palestinian issue, and his lack of initiative in renewing negotiations. “I tell him they are making mistakes,” Peres says. “And I urge him to stop the annexation of the West Bank.” But on this front, the president of Israel has given up on the prime minister, who he doesn’t believe is interested in being rescued from the dead-end with the Palestinians. Peres has essentially joined a long and respectable list of heads of state around the world who Netanyahu has managed to dupe with a false façade of willingness, ability and true intention to be remembered as a leader who acted to solve the bloody conflict with the Palestinians and choose a path of fair compromise. The president therefore decided to state his opinion on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Netanyahu and Barak, on the other hand, did not remain silent, and took off their gloves. Their responses to Peres’ statement — in which they referred to the Oslo Accords [agreements between Israel and the PLO, signed in 1993-94, designing the principles of a comprehensive peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians], to Peres’ opposition to the attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor [the surprise Israeli air strike carried out on June 1981 that destroyed a nuclear reactor under construction, south of Baghdad. Menachem Begin was Israeli prime minister at the time.], and even to the Gaza disengagement   [Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza strip. The plan was proposed by PM Ariel Sharon in 2004, and enacted in August 2005] — were offensive, unreasoned and mostly just low. And that’s just the beginning: In coming days, we are likely to bear witness to wild attacks on the president that will take a personal turn. Barak will probably also do his part by talking about the times that Peres undermined Rabin [both were opponents in the Israeli Labor party, and in turn prime ministers] — accompanied by a juicy imitation.

But the goal, it seems, has been achieved. The president, having joined the heads of the security establishment and intelligence community, may be the final chord that tips the balance in the fight between those who support and those who oppose an Israeli attack. Netanyahu, who has said that he and only he will decide if and when to attack, will be forced to reconsider his firm position. Following US declarations about Israel’s inability to attack Iran alone, if there remained any doubt that Netanyahu would back down from his position — Peres has made the painful decision easier for him. Now we wait and see what Netanyahu will write in his memoirs about the preparations for an attack, which have already cost the country billions of shekels, and why he decided at the last minute to refrain from giving the order.

Found in: peres, palestinians, oslo accords, nuclear, netanyahu, iraq, iran, idf, benjamin netanyahu, barak

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