Israel must not attack Iran alone, and should instead rely on the United States to assist it in preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, President Shimon Peres said on Thursday, in a rare moment of public dissent with the government’s stance.
In an interview with Channel 2 News for his 89th birthday, Peres said that he was convinced that halting Iran’s nuclear program “is an American interest” and that President Barack Obama “understands the American interest and isn’t just saying this to please us. I have no doubt about this whatsoever, even in talks with him.
“It is now clear to us that we cannot go it alone,” Peres said, referring to a military attempt to destroy Iran’s nuclear enrichment capabilities. “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.”
“Iran is a global threat, to the US and Israel alike,” he added, and said that he is convinced that the US will take action when the moment of truth comes.
Regarding timing, Peres said that contrary to speculation that there will be an attack on Iran this fall, he does not foresee such a strike prior to the US presidential elections in November. A Channel 2 News broadcast last Friday reported that Netanyahu and Barak are “almost finally” decided to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities this fall.
Commenting on statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak that Israel must fend for itself, Peres said: “Israel needs to depend on itself, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to give up on its friends. When I say I have a right to self-defense, that doesn’t mean that I must be enraged at everyone. Not at all.”
When asked how Israel should proceed if it doesn’t succeed in stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Peres said that the “Plan A” was to stop Iran from going nuclear, at all costs. “There is no Plan B,” he added.
After the interview was aired, a source close to Netanyahu dismissed the president’s statements saying, “Peres has forgotten what the president’s role is.” The source also said that Peres had made previous “cardinal errors” including “thinking that there was a new Middle East after the Oslo Accords, when in practice the process resulted in the loss of more than a 1,000 Israeli lives; and he erred in his forecast of the post-disengagement [from Gaza in 2005], when in practice thousands of rockets have been fired at Israel.”
His biggest mistake in this context, though, said the source, was in opposing the 1981 Israel Air Force attack that destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak.
Peres’s statements in opposition to a unilateral strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities followed Barak’s statement at the Knesset earlier in the day that there is disagreement among the government elite regarding the best course of action vis-a-vis Tehran.
MK Zevulun Orlev, of the Jewish Home party, also criticized Peres for “granting immunity” to Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei an President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“Peres has harmed the government’s ability to reach an informed decision, and tied its hands in regard to defending its citizens,” Orlev said.
MK Miri Regev of Likud added that “Peres remains the same old Peres: leftist, defeatist, an underminer who doesn’t support the prime minister.”
MK Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union was also harsh, saying that Peres “should spend his 90th year in a nursing home” rather than in the President’s Residence, and that “the damage that he has caused to the Jewish people will last for 200 years.”
Labor party chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich came to Peres’ defense, however, calling attacks on Peres “aggressive and rude.”
“The president expressed deep concern and responsibility for the standing and the security of the state of Israel,” Yachimovich said, “and it would behoove Netanyahu to listen well to the president and internalize his words.”