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Peres' behind-the-scenes campaign against Iran strike

Analysis: President's public comments against solo military operation indicative of tense relations with prime minister

Published: 08.17.12, 14:03 / Israel Opinion

One would be hard-pressed to find any government official who was surprised by Peres' comments on Thursday against a solo Israeli strike in Iran, which were made during an interview with Channel 2.

 

Before deciding to go public with his position, the president held numerous conversations with a host of officials in an attempt to tip the scales against a solo Israeli attack. During these meetings Peres all but admitted that he trusts President Barack Obama more than he trusts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

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The ensuing personal attack by Netanyahu's office was indicative of the growing tension, or even rift, between Peres and the PM. Netanyahu phoned Peres to congratulate him on his birthday, but their relationship has soured. Barak, on the other hand, refused to criticize Peres. "The president has contributed a lot. He has a right to say whatever he wants, and his positions are known," one of the defense minister's aides said.

 

Senior security establishment officials stressed that Barak himself has stated that Israel does not have the ability to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities and can only delay its nuclear program. "There is no reason to be surprised by the president's remarks – everyone knows what his position is. He said Israel can't destroy the sites – and that's exactly what the defense minister claims," one official said.

 

In order to keep Peres quiet, over the past few years Netanyahu has shared sensitive information with him. The PM visited the President's Residence in Jerusalem on numerous occasions, closed the door behind him and conducted long conversations with Peres. Netanyahu asked for the president's opinion on a host of issues and convinced him that he was doing his best to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. Netanyahu's plan worked. For more than three years Peres refused to openly criticize the premier or answer any question regarding the stalled peace negotiations.

 

But in closed talks with senior officials over the past few weeks, Peres leveled harsh criticism at Netanyahu's plan to launch a solo attack in Iran. He expressed his concern that Barak was the driving force behind the plan, and claimed that the defense minister's motivation was political – he wants to survive.

 

Peres did not conceal the great respect he has for Obama, and also expressed concern over Israel's geopolitical situation. He criticized Netanyahu's inability to bring Abbas back to the negotiating table and, as he has in the past, stressed that the Palestinian president was the best partner Israel could have to bring about a peace deal. The president explained that in order to deal with the Iranian issue, Israel must also address the Palestinian issue, urgently.

 

The rift between Jerusalem and Ankara also worries Peres, and he has criticized Israel's refusal to reach a compromise with the Turkish government and rebuild the relations between the countries. "We cannot act in Iran in the existing geopolitical climate in the Middle East," Peres said during these conversations, "our current situation is not helping or contributing. These issues must be resolved before anything else."

 

Peres even poked fun at the reports saying Netanyahu and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney were friends. "The fact that they stood in the same corridor some 30 years ago does not make them friends," he said.

 

Peres has been briefed on the Iranian issue by heads of the IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad, and he has also discussed the matter with ministers and decision-makers. He has net with senior security establishment officials, who complained that Netanyahu and Barak were trying to pressure them into supporting a solo operation in Iran. Peres told them all: We must not act alone. We have to wait for Obama. We have someone to count on.

 

But as time passed, Peres became more and more concerned that Netanyahu and Barak were planning a military maneuver despite the objection of the White House and the Israeli security establishment.

 

Peres' aides said his remarks on national television were not meant as a personal attack on Netanyahu. "He was just expressing his opinion," one of them said.

 

Senior political officials also criticized Netanyahu's conduct. "You cannot run a country in this manner," an official who is familiar with sensitive issues said Thursday. "Critical decisions are delayed until the last minute. Netanyahu can schedule a meeting from one day to the next, people cancel plans, and then the meeting is postponed or called off. Members of Knesset and ministers feel disrespected."

 

A minister complained that Netanyahu does not discuss sensitive and fateful issues with Cabinet members. "The ministers don’t really know what's going on, and they have no idea what will happen if a war breaks out or if Israel launches an operation in Gaza or anywhere else," he said.

 

A top Likud official said ministers and MKs have stopped defending Netanyahu because they feel he is "ungrateful and that he would not hesitate to turn his back on those who have helped him.

 

"He has no loyalty to anyone other than himself, and he is breaking records even in terms of the cynical Israeli politics,' the official added.

 

 

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