Reality Check: Peres and the voice of reason

Using the media platform generated by his 89th birthday, the president launched into his own commando strike.

Peres and Netanyahu at Press Conference 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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.
By 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 ambitions.
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 crippling blow.
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 unemployment.
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.