The lack of cohesion among Israel’s political and military leadership is so jarring sometimes that it becomes easy to believe that Israel is trying to project an image of a wily, unstable ready-to-strike to goad the international community into acting on Iran. This isn’t new; some smart people have written on this idea, saying that the pu pu platter of retired and active Israeli generals, officials, and security chiefs coming out each week to say something about either the inefficacy of an Israeli strike on Iran or to predict the date of its coming are different sections in the same chorus. Given how the issue of Iran’s nuclear program has remained on the front burner, it’s hard to argue against this assessment.
Someone who doesn’t seem to be part of this chorus is Israeli President Shimon Peres, who at nearly 90 is redefining the way some Israelis look at the largely symbolic position. Yesterday, Peres said something that few Israeli leaders have said:
I am convinced this (stopping Iran’s nuclear program) is an American interest. I am convinced (Obama) recognizes the American interest and he isn’t saying this just to keep us happy. I have no doubt about it, after having had talks with him.
Now, it’s clear to us that we can’t do it alone. We can delay (Iran’s nuclear program). It’s clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone.
Peres’s position seems to be pretty close to the 60% of the Israeli public who, while definitely not as enamored of President Obama, believes that Israel should not go it alone on Iran. Beyond the strategic difficulties of the task, given the potential amount of damage a strike on Iran could do to the global economy, the price of oil, and, most of all, likely place Israel in a three-front war with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, it’s pretty hard to argue against the need for Israel to have as broad of a coalition as possible (with robust American support).
Nevertheless, a person close to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to Peres’s comments:
“Peres has forgotten what the role of Israel’s president is. He has forgotten that he made three major mistakes in regard to Israel’s security … his greatest mistake was in 1981 when he thought bombing the reactor in Iraq was wrong and, to the fortune of Israel’s citizens, Prime Minister Begin ignored him.”
Given the nature of the threat if Iran finds itself able to develop a nuclear weapon, it’s pretty hard to argue that Israel should outsource its own security to anyone else whom it cannot absolutely guarantee will act at the decisive moment. I happen to trust that either President Obama or Governor Romney would not hesitate to lead America to act in the interest of Israel’s security (as well as American security), but I also have that luxury of writing this thousands of miles from Israel.
Those who are skeptical about the advances made by Iran in its pursuit of a nuclear program make good points too. The timetables on Iran’s nuclear thresholds and zones of immunity seemingly contract and expand so often that it’s hard to gauge how urgent the urgency is. As Jeffrey Lewis at Foreign Policy notes, all the leaks and conflicting intelligence assessments make it seem as though the case is uncertain.
Then there is another reason for skepticism. We are reading about this in the paper! One thing I learned living in Washington is that intelligence leaks are usually the losing side of an argument. I was at a meeting recently at which an old intelligence hand made the same point rather forcefully. Leaks are a way of appealing a decision through the media and political opposition.
Given that Israel’s attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak as well as the bombing of one in Syria just a few years ago both happened without any prior word, much less a decade of discourse, it’s also tough to argue with the skeptics, especially those who are concerned that Israel might be walking into a trap.
Of course, if there is one person speaking clearly, it’s Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who just this morning, called Israel a “cancerous tumor” on Iranian state television. He didn’t stop there:
“The nations of the region will soon finish off the usurper Zionists in the Palestinian land … In the new Middle East there will be no trace of the Americans and Zionists.”
Regardless of the state of Iran’s nuclear program, there is little choice but to take him at his word. It’s pretty hard to argue against doing that.
Israel’s Peres Against Any Solo Attack, Trusts Obama [Reuters]
The Ayatollah’s Pregnant Pause [FP]
Netanyahu Plays Romney Card [Gatestone Institute]