Former president Navon backs Peres for breaking with PM over Iran plans

‘If I were in the place of President Peres I would act like him,’ Israel’s fifth president says; White House ‘gratified’ by Peres’s comment

Yitzhak Navon (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Yitzhak Navon (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, defended current President Shimon Peres Saturday for coming out against a strike on Iran, saying it is more important to speak your conscience than follow protocol.

On Thursday, Peres made a public statement against rushing to a unilateral Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, seen as a rare rebuff of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an open forum.

“If I were in the place of President Peres I would act like him. A man like Shimon Peres is not able to not say anything when he feels the fate of the hour and believes with all his heart that it is his obligation to wield his influence,” Navon said in a statement to the press. “It was clear to Peres just as it was clear to me that you are not supposed to meddle in government decisions, but there are situations that are not normal and with them you need to say what you believe.”

On Thursday, Peres told Channel 2 news, during a special birthday interview, that Israel could not “go it alone” against Iran.

“We can forestall it; therefore it’s clear to us that we have to work together with the America. There are questions of coordination and timing, but because of the nature of the danger, we are not alone,” Peres said.

Navon was Israel’s president from 1978 to 1983 and was a rival of Peres for the leadership of the Labor party in the mid 1980s.

He sat in the President’s Residence during Israel’s 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility, a move Peres famously opposed.

The presidential office in Israel is largely ceremonial and presidents are largely expected to stay out of policy decisions. Though Peres’s dovish background clashes with the views of Netanyahu, largely seen as hawkish, he has mostly kept from airing his opinions in public.

Several right-wing members of the government lashed out at Peres for making the break after the interview aired.

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said in a briefing on Friday that the administration was “gratified” to see Peres’s comment.

Earnest called the US president’s commitment to ensuring that Iran doesn’t develop and acquire a nuclear weapon “rock solid.”

“It’s unwavering, and it is why the president has expressed such fierce resolve in terms of asking Iran to live up to their international obligations, in terms of working with the international community to apply very onerous sanctions on the Iranian regime,” said Earnest. “It’s why we’ve also acted unilaterally to apply some very strict sanctions and put those in place; to provide an incentive for the Iranian regime to live up to their international obligations. All of that is with the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

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