By Dan Raviv
No one familiar with the history of modern state of Israel can think of a situation as extreme as the choice facing the Jewish state’s leaders now: whether to order their air force to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities — distant, well protected, and partially underground — so as to delay the suspected Iranian nuclear bomb program for a year or two.
[Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, now 89 years old]
Senior figures in Israeli politics — as well as, more privately, in the military and in intelligence agencies — must feel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are close to a decision: because opponents of an airstrike are stepping up their rhetoric to warn that it would be a terribly dangerous thing to do.
“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.”
A flurry of comments by Israeli officials and media reports over the past week have put financial markets on edge by appearing to suggest an attack could be launched before the U.S. presidential election in November.
An unidentified top “decision maker”, widely believed to be Barak, told Haaretz newspaper last Friday that Israel “cannot place the responsibility for its security and future even in the hands of its greatest ally”, a reference to the United States.
Peres said in the interview that he did not believe Israel would launch an attack on Iran before November.
As president, Peres, 89, has little political power in Israel. But he has won the respect of many Israelis while serving in the post and his opposition to any unilateral action poses an additional challenge to Netanyahu.
A political source close to Netanyahu issued an angry response to Peres’ comments shortly after the president’s interview was aired.
“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,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
On Friday night, also on Israel’s Channel Two, a former general who served as defense minister — and, for a short time this year as a deputy prime minister to Netanyahu during a failed attempt to govern with a very broad coalition — warned more explicitly against attacking Iran at this time. Shaul Mofaz seemed to be speaking as though Netanyahu and Barak might order an attack at any time, perhaps ignoring the reported, private appeal by Obama to Israel’s leaders not to attack — thus sparking a possibly global crisis — before America’s Election Day in November.
[Retired general, Shaul Mofaz]
Again, we quote Reuters, which reports that Mofaz warned against starting “a disastrous war”:
[He] said on Israeli television he thought Israel was “planning a hasty, irresponsible event”.
As a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet for two months, Mofaz was privy to deliberations on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Naming both Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, he said he was “very worried at what they are preparing”. He added: “I hope very much we don’t reach such a war because it would be a disaster.”
Days after he quit the cabinet late in July in a dispute about military conscription policy, Mofaz, who heads the centrist Kadima party, cautioned he would not back any Israeli military “adventures”.
His comments echoed those of other former Israeli security officials who have spoken against any unilateral attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, with some saying such an assault could spur Tehran to speed up uranium enrichment.