Peres and Netanyahu at Press Conference 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
It’s a sad state of affairs when it takes an 89-year-old to provide the clearest
perspective on Israel’s present-day reality.
Admittedly, President Shimon
Peres is no ordinary almost-nonagenarian, but he is to be applauded for both his
courage in publicly demolishing the prime minister and defense minister’s
arguments in favor of an Israeli strike on Iran and for his cogent analysis of
the limits of Israel’s strength.
Unlike Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud
Barak, who have been frenetically briefing senior journalists off the record as
to why Israel’s window of opportunity to attack Iran’s nuclear installations is
rapidly closing, Peres chose not to make his case while hiding behind the
“senior Israeli official” attribution.
Using the media platform generated
by his 89th birthday (and Peres, one suspects, takes seriously the traditional
blessing “until 120”), the president cast aside the normal platitudes associated
with the presidency and launched into his own commando strike.
insisting that “it is clear to us that we cannot do it [destroy Iran’s nuclear
project] alone” and that “America will not abandon the world and Israel and will
not let the Middle East fall into the hands of the ayatollahs,” Peres severely
punctured the balloon that Netanyahu and Barak have been floating for the past
couple of weeks.
Significantly, the president’s remarks came only a few
days after America’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey,
in an unusually frank press conference held alongside US Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta, noted that Israel could only dent, but not destroy, Iran’s nuclear
The combination of these statements, alongside the reported
objections to an Israeli strike voiced by the heads of the IDF and the wider
security establishment, should, if nothing else, give Netanyahu and Barak pause
for thought and, one hopes, the impetus to begin looking for the ladder that
will help them climb down from the dangerous position they’ve talked themselves
– and Israel – into.
THROUGH AGGRESSIVELY beating the tom-toms of war and
needlessly setting the Israeli public’s nerves on edge over the summer,
Netanyahu and Barak have placed Israel almost at the point at which a failure to
attack Iran would harm the country’s deterrence posture. Israel can only cry
wolf so many times before people stop believing that we do, in fact, have the
ability and determination to act.
But preserving face is not a good
enough reason to go to war. While Barak blithely talks of “only” 500 Israeli
dead if Israel attacks Iran, and the Iranians and their Hezbollah proxy in
Lebanon then retaliate with a massive rocket bombardment on Israel, there are
other aspects that need to be taken into consideration.
If there’s one
area in which Prime Minister Netanyahu can take pride as he looks over his
present term of office (and it’s fair to say there are very few highlights from
which to choose as most of Netanyahu’s energy has been spent on pointlessly
treading political water), his main accomplishment has been maintaining Israel’s
economic stability during a world recession.
An Israeli attack on Iran
would change this overnight. The resultant spike in oil prices would first of
all deliver a further blow to the world economy, setting off more crises that
would be blamed on Israel, while our own domestic economy would be dealt a
With rockets falling on the major Israeli urban centers,
foreign investors will pull their money out of the country, the Tel Aviv stock
exchange will plummet, as will government bonds. Israel’s record year for
tourism will come to a sudden end as international airlines stop flying here and
the ports will be paralyzed.
Meanwhile, with Israeli consumers huddled in
their shelters, local demand will dry up, harming local factories and business
outlets which will inevitably lead to a massive increase in
With the shekel tanking, inflation and interest rates
rising, Netanyahu will have overturned the fruits of his earlier labors,
launching Israel into an era of recession similar to that which followed the Yom
Kippur War in the dismal 1970s.
AND WHO would Israel turn to for
assistance in such an hour of need? While Defense Minister Barak has honorably
gone on the record to hail US President Barack Obama’s unprecedented military
assistance to Israel during the four years of his presidency, Netanyahu has
preferred to dangerously dabble in US domestic politics and, with startling
ingratitude to Obama, sought to boost rival Mitt Romney’s standing in the
upcoming presidential elections.
After Peres’s birthday interview,
sources in the Prime Minister’s Office were quick to lambast him for
politicizing the presidency. They seem to have forgotten that earlier on in
Netanyahu’s tenure, the prime minister was not shy in using Peres to lobby Obama
on his behalf and provide Netanyahu with a kashrut certificate with regards to
his sincerity (later shown to be false) for searching for a diplomatic solution
to the Palestinian issue.
It’s imperative that we don’t reach the stage
again where prime minister is obligated to send an 89-year-old to the White
House to lobby on Israel’s behalf.