Savir's Corner: The summer of 2012

Israel should continue to insist on self-reliance, but understand that strength, progress are achieved through coalitions.

Netanyahu at CUFI meeting_370 (photo credit: Facebook image)
Netanyahu at CUFI meeting_370
(photo credit: Facebook image)
Some time ago we saw in the brilliant television satire, Eretz Nehederet, Israelis giving up on all their summer plans, “because of that thing that will happen with Iran this summer.”
“Can I give you a delayed check for this summer?” says the customer.
“No, of course not,” says the shopkeeper.
“Don’t you know what will happen this summer? That thing with Iran.”
“Oh yes, I forgot it’s this summer!” he replies, and pays immediately.
The price this summer may be somewhat higher. The international media, based on American and Israeli sources, inform us of a possible Israeli preventive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, after June, after sanctions and negotiations have been given a chance, before the “window of immunity” closes. Will we strike?
Only God, Netanyahu and Barak know. What is certain is that Israel will this summer face, in many areas, a critical crossroads of historical magnitude, because after summer 2012 come the American elections, and in their aftermath, Israel will no longer be able to act in isolation.
Should the Netanyahu-Barak-Liberman government indeed decide this summer to attack Iran on its own, against the better advice of most of our past and present security establishment and of the leader of the free world, Israel’s strategic position will be harmed, probably for decades to come. I do believe in the capacity of our army to carry out an effective military strike in Iran, and delay the Iranian’s nuclear plans, not ambitions, for some years.
I also do not believe that the decisions should be taken primarily in relation to the scope of Israeli casualties, that may be very high; but a country needs to be ready to pay a price, if it is about protecting its national security.
The problem is, in my view, that if we act militarily on our own in Iran, we gravely endanger our long term national security, from many crucial perspectives: - We will, for decades, become the arch-enemy of Iran, under any regime, with an obsession for vengeance, possibly expressed through terror and easily acquired nuclear arms from any possible Muslim source.
• We will have turned the Muslim world against us. Most of the Muslim countries and societies are today opposed to Tehran’s Shi’ite clerics’ regional ambitions. But a humiliation at the hands of the Jewish state, would most probably create a coalition of firm solidarity against Israel, and as Meir Dagan warns, turn the regional conflict into a religious one.
• The Arab world, in case of war, will give up for the years to come on any possible peaceful engagement or negotiations with Israel, returning to the view that the Palestinian cause can be dealt with by violence only.
• The international community, primarily the European Union, will blame Israel for having brought the world to the brink of World War III, thus endangering our trade and defense relations with countries like Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
• We would greatly embarrass the Obama administration, that has developed the strongest and best defense relations with Israel of any administration, while damaging its global and regional interests. Not a single Arab or Muslim will indeed believe that Israel really acted on its own. The United States, no matter the administration, and especially now with what seems as a likely Obama reelection in 2012, does not forgive when its strategic global interests are damaged.
In short, in my view a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran, will mostly weaken, in fact dramatically endanger our national security. This may not be a popular position, but we are at a moment that obliges honest assessment. The alternative is also not risk free – it is to follow the American lead, in its diplomatic and economic efforts to prevent Iran from developing military nuclear capacity.
Yet we will have the world, and the United States, on our side – deterring Iran with major economic and military means. I happen to believe that most of our leaders understand this equation and what is at stake. Most but not all. It seems there is one with a messianic view of saving Israel from a “second holocaust”; the other an adventurous commando who believes that power, creatively applied, can solve anything. Yet they are not a Messiah, nor a James Bond, they are merely two mediocre present and past prime ministers, confronted by a monumental crossroads.
How should then summer 2012 play out? I would like it to be a summer of coalition, not collision. I support three such coalitions:
• A United States led global coalition against Iran, in which Israel is a player. Fully coordinated with the Obama administration; engaged in crippling economic sanctions and creative diplomacy in the 5+1 negotiations with Iran, with the aim to transform the Iranian nuclear ambition into a civilian one. While for such a coalition, all options remain on the table.
• A government led coalition in the Middle East – made possible by Israel and the Palestinians finally engaging in a viable, sustainable peace process, according to the Obama vision of a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines, and a mutual halt to unilateral activities (Palestinian actions in the UN, and Israeli settlement expansion). In this manner we will bring the Arab world closer to us, at a critical time of shifting sands in the region, as well as vis-a-vis Iran.
• A peoples’ coalition in the region, that is advanced by young people and social revolutions, be it Tahrir, Yasmin or Rothschild. It is reasonable to forecast that we will see this summer a reawakening of the Israeli protest movement in the streets of our cities. This year, Daphni, Stav and co. need to comprehend and express that there is no social justice without peace. Funds will have to move with time from settlements and their security, to social equality. In this respect, it is high-time for Tahrir and Rothschild to meet, to engage in a social network dialogue between the young change agents in Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere, as is happening on the YaLa – Young Leaders, Facebook-based movement.
So, the summer of 2012 could very well be a doomsday summer, or a turning point towards coalition building in favor of security, peace and economy.
Israel should continue to insist on its self-reliance, but understand that in today’s world, strength and progress are achieved through coalitions, and harm is inflicted in isolation. Drawing on these conclusions could mean “that thing” which will happen this summer may be a positive strategic turning point.

The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.