Peres on Iran: When we say all options are on the table, we mean it

Barak on differences with the US: We cannot transfer responsibility for our security ‘to even the best of our friends’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israel has a viable military option for use against Iran, President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak both made clear in separate appearances on Thursday evening.

They were speaking as Iran announced that it had successfully completed four days of military exercises designed to test its air defense systems.

Peres, meeting US Jewish leaders, refuted a report that he plans to tell US President Barack Obama, during his upcoming visit to Washington, that he opposes an Israeli attack on Iran. On the contrary, Peres said, Israel “has the right to defend itself,” an Iranian bomb would be “a catastrophe” and when Israel says “all options are on the table, we really mean it.”

And Barak, asked in a Channel 2 TV interview whether Israel had the military means to stop Iran’s nuclear drive single-handedly, replied, “We wouldn’t discuss things that are not possible.”

Barak said that “anyone who has eyes in their head” could see that the Iranians were determined to achieve nuclear weapons, and that “nations that want to survive, especially in the Middle East” sometimes have to take “calculated risks” in order to safeguard their futures.

When it was put to him that the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, had asserted that a military strike against Iran would not achieve its goals, Barak said that such an assessment would suggest that the Iranian program was already “immune” from attack. The defense minister said he did not think this was the case.

In any event, he added — in an apparent allusion to differing assessments between the US and Israel on the issue — Israel could not afford to transfer responsibility for its future and security, in the face of the Iranian threat, “to even the best of our friends.”

He noted that the regime in Tehran is “avowedly determined to bring down what it calls the Zionist regime.” However complex it might be to deal with Iran today, he added, it would potentially be more dangerous, and involve more loss of life, later on.

Was Israel capable of mounting an effective military strike on its own, Barak was asked. “Don’t worry, if we’re not capable, we won’t attack,” he responded, adding, “We wouldn’t discuss things that are not possible.”

Meanwhile Peres, speaking at the closing session of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ annual leadership mission in Jerusalem, addressed the Iran nuclear threat briefly but succinctly.

“I wake up this morning to read in one of the papers a huge headline [about] what I’m going to say to the president of the United States, Obama,” Peres said. “I think that’s very nice on the part of the paper. I imagine that they probably wanted to suggest something for me, for my agenda. It’s their imagination.

“As far as I’m concerned, I never told anybody in my life before a meeting with such a leader what I am going to tell him,” he said.

Thursday’s edition of Haaretz had quoted “political and diplomatic officials who are familiar with Peres’s positions and are helping prepare for the Obama meeting” as saying that he is against the “unceasing self-intimidation” expressed by senior Israeli officials, and intends to tell Obama that he opposes a military strike.

“The state of Israel is an independent, sovereign state, and has the right to defend itself. When we say all options are on the table, we really mean it,” he said.

“Imagine if Iran were to win (the race to the bomb). No country could prevent it from freely exporting terror, or stop it dominating the world’s economy. Iran with a nuclear bomb is a catastrophe,” said Peres.

After Peres, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro took the podium and addressed the nearly 100 delegates, representing 50 organizations. He asserted that despite media reports and public statements by officials suggesting a growing rift between Washington and Jerusalem, the two governments were on the same page regarding the Iranian threat.

“Whatever one reads in the newspapers, I cannot think of any issue on which we are better coordinating than the issue of Iran,” Shapiro said, adding that numerous senior defense and military officials had consulted with their Israeli counterparts during the last few weeks. Such close cooperation demonstrated unity in strategy and resolve on a plan of action, he suggested.

“There is no other country in the world, there is no other relationship in world, where the senior leaders would invest that kind of time to make sure we have total coordination of our policy. And we do,” Shapiro said. “We’re in total coordination and agreement on the nature of this threat and the dangers of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Crippling economic sanctions against Tehran are the “preferred strategy” of both Israel and the US to prevent that from happening, he added. “While our strategy is clear, for now, all other options are on the table, and more than that, the necessary planning has been done to ensure those options are actually available if at any time they become necessary.”

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