Israeli President Peres Smacks down PM Netanyahu on Iran Attack, Supports Obama

For the past couple of weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, have been making strident noises about a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities.

It is hard to believe that the far right wing Israeli government actually would be so foolish as to mount such an attack by itself, and in the midst of the US presidential campaign.

Obviously, the threats are a form of blackmail. They want something from US President Barack Obama, and this wild talk is the way they think they can get it. Their war talk is a form of blackmail. It gives the Republicans ammunition against Obama, since they can say America’s close ally thinks Obama isn’t doing enough. Obama wants the traditionally Democratic Jewish vote and the campaign donations of wealthy Jewish Americans, and Netanyahu is trying to hurt him. So what do they want?

Obviously, they want Obama to pledge to attack Iran, instead. Specifically, they are said to want Obama to adopt the Israeli ‘red lines’ on Iran, that its scientific establishment must not be allowed to gain even the abstract knowledge of how to construct a nuclear warhead, on pain of a massive US bombing raid.

The problem for them is that the US intelligence establishment does not believe Iran is constructing a nuclear warhead, and does not believe that immediate action against Iran on the nuclear issue is warranted. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has forbidden the construction or stockpiling of actual nuclear weapons. Moreover, as Andy Card might say, a president doesn’t roll out a new product 80 days before an election (you could never be sure a new war would go well, and if it didn’t it might end your presidency).

Netanyahu and Barak do not disagree with the former assessment. Barak said in January that “Barak stated that Iran “is evidently not trying to procure nuclear weapons.”

But for their purposes, even if Iran gains the know-how to construct a bomb, it is a game changer in the Middle East. An Iran with a break-out capability could not be attacked down the road or punished for supporting Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In fact an Iran with the know-how to make a bomb might spur Israeli out-migration and might make impossible Netanyahu’s plan to annex and colonize the entirety of the West Bank with impunity. Since the ‘settler-industrial complex’ is key to Netanyahu’s political fortunes, his rhetoric against Iran serves several purposes– shoring up his rightwing base, reassuring his squatter allies, and changing the terms of the discussion (not, ‘when will you make peace with the Palestinians?’ but ‘How can we persuade you not to attack Iran?’)

Beyond that, Barak and Netanyahu appeared to want to use the US campaign season to box Obama in. If he didn’t promise to use military force against Iran to stop it from gaining even the knowledge of how to construct a nuclear weapon, then they would keep the pressure on through their rhetoric. They might thereby be able to cut back on Jewish-American financial and moral support for Obama. They know that if they do not box him in now, and he wins, they likely will never get their war.

That is, they were attempting to intervene in an American election as a way of blackmailing the president into pledging to take the country to war on their terms. It is outrageous.

But the stridency of Netanyahu’s and Barak’s rhetoric alarmed Israeli president Shimon Peres, 89, who intervened with a major policy statement. He said he trusted President Obama on the Iran issue (definitely not a Netanyahu talking point; Netanyahu is more or less an honorary member of the right wing of the US Republican Party). Peres, who is closer to the traditional American Jewish Democratic mainstream, may also have feared that the clumsy attempt to blackmail Obama and intervene in the election campaign might do lasting damage to Israeli interests.

Since Israel’s presidency is symbolic, Barak and Netanyahu felt stung, and condemned him for publicly differing with them on policy.

Nevertheless, the Israeli press appears to believe that Peres’s intervention was decisive– despite his lack of power, he has influence with the military and intelligence professionals who also oppose Netanyahu’s rash threats against Iran. One Israeli commentator called him a ‘tie-breaker.’

The USG Open Source Center translates the Hebrew of Shim’on Schiffer’s column at Yedi’ot Aharonot:

“Netanyahu and Baraq managed to make Peres lose his cool. Their conduct, the briefings they gave to the media on a possible strike in Iran, and particularly the belligerent attitude toward US President Barack Obama, upset him. Peres believes that Netanyahu and Baraq are liable to lead the country to a horrific reality on the day after a strike, which in any case — even in their view — will only postpone the moment at which Iran will acquire nuclear weapons by a year or 18 months. For this reason, he decided to make a presidential statement yesterday, and warn against the possibility of an Israeli strike without coordination and understandings with the United States. It seemed as if he were trying to hint that such course of action was too serious and crucial to be decided by these two fellows, Netanyahu and Baraq. The president’s stance, along with the stance of the top security and intelligence officials, was apparently the final chord, the tiebreaker if you will, in the debate between the supporters and opponents of an Israeli strike. Netanyahu, who declared that he and only he would decide whether to attack and when, will now have to reconsider his firm stance.”

And here also from the USG Open Source Center:

‘Ben Kaspit on page 3 of Ma’ariv says: “Peres is worried sick, following with anxiety the collapse of the relationship with the United States that has been sustaining Israel for generations, and looking with alarm at the way Netanyahu and Baraq are behaving and managing affairs. He is looking at the diplomatic ruin, at the international isolation, and at the frightening alliance between the two former commandos who have messed up the situation, each in turn, each in his own time — and is simply afraid.” “Shim’on Peres, the elder statesman, the last responsible adult, spoke his mind yesterday. The Americans looked forward to this eagerly, and in the end they got something; too little, too late, but something nonetheless.”

Predictably, Yisrael Ha-Yom (Israel Today), the rag owned by US casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, Mitt Romney’s main financial backer, condemned Peres for breaking his silence. Netanyahu is to Adelson as the Golden Calf was to the wayward among the Israelites.

In American campaign terms, Peres has just given the Democratic Party enormous cover. The Democrats can reply to Netanyahu’s criticisms by saying, well, obviously, not all Israeli leaders agree. Since typically most Jewish-Americans vote Democratic, and since American Jews are remarkably civic-minded and give disproportionately to political campaigns, they are a central constituency for that party. Netanyahu probably over-estimates how many of them pay any attention to him, but he could have hoped to have an effect at the margins, which might matter in a close presidential contest.

But that feisty old octogenarian, Shimon Peres, has shot him down.

18 Responses

  1. The Netanyahu-Barak war hysteria also has the effect of driving up gasoline prices in the US which is harmful to the re-election of Obama, which is not Mr Netanyahu’s choice for the US Presidency.

  2. Don’t forget that Netanyahu is also currying favor with his backer and moneybags casino mogul Sheldon Alderson.

  3. Obama should simply privately lie to Israel, then after he wins publicly tell Israel “tough luck, I lied to prevent a needless war” and let Israelis get upset because at that point there is nothing Israel can do to Obama. Heck, Obama may even have a more willing congress, so Israel may not even be able to get stuff passed in congress so easily (I can’t believe I wrote that considering that all of congress, regardless of party, is bought and paid for by Israel).

    Sure Israel could still try an attack, but I think Israel vastly underestimates Iran. Behind all the false bravado, Iran actually does have very significant defensive resources that could make an Israeli strike a major debacle for Israel with massive loses. If Iran could cause major damage to the Israeli attackers, then politically Iran “could work the house” and isolate the US and Israel rather than counter-attack. Long term the damage to the US and Israel might be vastly more satisfying then simply bombing Israel. In the end, the US could face a choice of throwing Israel to the wolves or losing what little power it still has on the world stage.

    The bottom line is any attack on Iran causes Israel to lose.

  4. Simplistically, after reading parts of “International law and Israeli settlements” in Wikipedia I have questions?

    Are the Israeli settlements and actions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights that have and are forcibly removing Palestinians, illegal? Most countries of the world and the UN consider them illegal, violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Of course Israel and a few others don’t.

    If so, the US Government must formally acknowledge the crimes of Israeli and advise them to stop all illegal actions and make retribution to the Palestinians or else face removal of all military equipment and weapons including nuclear bombs and an end of all diplomatic ties and trade.

    Israel receives the largest foreign aid of all countries in the world in the disguise of military equipment and weapons.

    Corruption: Money + Power = US Military Industrial Complex
    contributes to destroying the economy of America.

    Of course this would require a strong President, not another legally educated smooth talking individual.

  5. In my view, the whole thing is an elaborate hoax. This is the money quote in your analysis: “Since the ‘settler-industrial complex’ is key to Netanyahu’s political fortunes, his rhetoric against Iran serves several purposes– shoring up his rightwing base, reassuring his squatter allies, and changing the terms of the discussion (not, ‘when will you make peace with the Palestinians?’ but ‘How can we persuade you not to attack Iran?’)

  6. I do not feel relieved, at all. Peres is no peacenik, has never been one, so I don’t understand why we should applaud him for not going with Bibi on this one.

    What everybody seems to forget: nobody would object a strike or a war against Iran if some US lunatic president stood behind it!!! That shows how far the discourse has been pushed until now!!!

  7. The whole situation would have been hilarious were it not so tragic. Here is the only country in the Middle East with a huge nuclear arsenal, probably the third biggest nuclear power in the world, a country that has unilaterally attacked practically all its neighbors repeatedly, a country that is breaking international law not only by not evacuating occupied Palestinian territory but is expanding its illegal occupation as an affront to the whole world. Meanwhile, the leaders of that country almost on a daily basis say that they will attack Iran because it might at some point in the future have the capability of producing a single bomb! For the record, Peres is the person who is guilty of nuclear proliferation by arming Israel with nuclear weapons through deception.

    All that he is now saying is not that an attack on Iran on those dubious grounds is wrong and illegal, he says that Netanyahu has to trust President Obama that he would attack Iran after the election if Iran does not stop its perfectly legal enrichment program. The reign of the mullahs is a disgrace and a tragedy for Iran, but the outrageous Israeli warmongering really is beyond the pale and requires a firm response from the international community before it is too late. Had the Israeli leaders been brought to justice for their war crimes against the Lebanese and especially against the defenseless people of Gaza who are kept in an open prison they would not dare call so openly for an attack on Iran, which would probably kill hundreds of thousands of innocent Iranians in the process and would plunge the entire Middle East into chaos and bloodshed, so that some Zionist extremists could achieve their dream of Greater Israel.

  8. Obama could just announce to the world that US arms cannot be used for an illegal war, or all military aid to Israel will stop.

    Oops, I forgot that he will be impeached if he tries to pull that off, because the US Congre$$, bless their hearts, are in the back pocke of AIPAC.

    I guess we citizens are on our own, since our so-called “leaers” are bought and paid for. One way that we as individual citizens can make our voices heard (forget writing to your member of Congre$$ on this issue) is for all of us to pledge to BOYCOTT ISRAEL IF IT ATTACKS IRAN. Please sign the pledge at

    http://www.divestfomwar.org

    and spread the world. Le us (nonviolently) increase the cost to Israel of starting Middle East War III. Maybe we can help to avert one this time, instead of just protesting it after the fact.

    • Good question.

      There were vehement disputes when the State of Israel was founded as to whether it should be a theocracy based on religious law, much as Saudi Arabia is today, or secular in nature.

      There is no single codified constitutional document that is Israel’s constitution, but a body of constitutional law does exist as a hodgepodge of legal precedent and what is known as the “Basic Law.”

  9. Whoever is redlining “the abstract knowledge of how to construct a nuclear warhead” is playing a nasty game. This knowledge is *extremely* widespread, to the point that no one bothers to build weapons the easy way anymore. See Wikipedia, “Gun-type fission weapon”:

    “…the relatively simple design is a concern, as it does not require as much fine engineering or manufacturing as other methods. With enough highly-enriched uranium (not itself an easy thing to acquire), nations or groups with relatively low levels of technological sophistication could create an inefficient—though still quite powerful—gun-type nuclear weapon.”

    Iranian physicists and engineers aren’t incompetent. The major challenge is getting enough very-highly-enriched uranium. Going for a fancy weapon design is entirely optional.

    The abstract knowledge to build a nuclear weapon is barely even classified. I’d ask who is trying to draw a red line that’s such a dangerous red herring? Accept it, and it calls for a retroactive war.

  10. Somewhat off topic, but is this just another example of “mistranslantion,” this time by the UN?

    “The Secretary-General is dismayed by the REMARKS THREATENING ISRAEL’S EXISTENCE [emphasis added] attributed over the last two days to the Supreme Leader and the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the UN press relations office stated. “The Secretary-General condemns these offensive and inflammatory statements.”

    Or do we pretend these statements didn’t exist or rather, will vanish with the pages of time?

  11. Iran nuclear 

    The path to a nuclear safe Middle East 
    Is clear.  

    The path — which was first suggested by Iran in 1974 — is the creation a nuclear free zone. 

    All countries in the region agree — except one — Israel. 

    If we can get Israel  to agree, then a ‘fail safe’ nuclear free Middle East is ‘done deal’. 

    No need for war and all it’s carnage and cost.  

    So — maximum efforts should be directed at convincing Israel to agree. 

    Would that not be a better way??

    No carnage!! No cost!!

    But wait —  65% of Israelies already support the creation of such a zone.  

    We really don’t even need to convince the Israelies!

    Am I missing something here????

    What is this looming war really about????

    Link: Israeli Public Supports Middle East Nuclear Free Zone

    link to worldpublicopinion.org

    Essay on Nuclear Free Zone

    link to worldpublicopinion.org

  12. D. Matthews already said my point: namely, that a crucial insight from Cole’s analysis is the usefulness of the supposed Iranian threat for keeping “peace with Palestinians” off the front burner.

  13. Israel is a democratic country. The problem with democracy is that when politicians can’t fix the economy they need an scapegoat to stay in power. With all the aids Israel has been receiving form US and Europe still people feel desperate enough to burn themselves to death.

    link to msnbc.msn.com

    400 person a year commit suicide over economic issues.

    link to middleeastmonitor.com

    Bibi needs thereat of war to get more money from the west and also pre occupy its citizens. He is doing a good job at it.

  14. Shimon Peres, as a Nobel laureate and former prime minister in Israel, has tremendous respect among the Israeli moderate and left-wing electorate, however it should be noted that the office of president in Israel is largely ceremonial and his little real power other than to sign pardons for convicts.

    Jewish-Americans have been heavily Democratic in presidential elections historically, but in certain years have given significant support at the polls to GOP nominees.

    I believe that Romney’s catering to far-right elements in Israel to gain support from Jewish-Americans will not go very far. He will likely get less than one-third of the total Jewish-American vote; the flip side of the equation is that elements of the Arab-American community that have been traditionally GOP in orientation, such as Palestinian-Americans, have been alienated by Romney’s statements and conduct. In states such as Michigan, a number of GOP leaders have been Palestinian-Americans, including University of Michigan Law School graduate Justin Amash, who was elected to U.S. Congress from western Michigan. Former Michigan Republican Party chairman Spencer Abraham, who served a term in the U.S. Senate, is a Lebanese-American Christian who has been an advocate of U.N. Resolution 242.

    I cannot say with any degree of certainty that Mitt Romney’s gambit in bending over backwards to appear an ardent supporter of Israeli hawkish elements is going to be a sound way to net an increase in votes on Election Day.

    Remember how V.P. Gore’s presidential ambitions were dashed after the Elian Gonzales raid by the I.N.S. in Miami galvanized the Cuban exile community in Florida to augment get-out-the-vote efforts to support G. W. Bush at the polls in 2000. Romney’s efforts may likewise backfire on him.

  15. It seems we are confronted by a vague theoretical future threat….Iran’s possible development of a nuclear weapon….versus Israel’s increasingly aggressive threat of an imminent attack, a threat far more dangerous to our national security and world peace. It would be in our own interest to sign a mutual defense pact with Iran, making an attack by an outside power far less likely.

    Prime Minister Netanyahu’s unaceptable meddling in the American presidential election is sufficient reason for this Republican to vote Democratic. Any Republican not repudiating such intervention is not to be trusted.

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