Anyone planning a military strike against Iran's growing nuclear facilities had better think again, says Israeli President Shimon Peres. "You must ask, what will be the next step?"
Speaking in an interview Thursday with The Globe and Mail in advance of a visit to Canada, Mr. Peres, Israel's most prominent elder statesman, weighed in on a topic that is dividing the country's security and political leadership. He warned that "in order to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear [armed]country you have to introduce a system of verification and inspection," and worried that such a system could be jeopardized by a pre-emptive attack.
"Say if somebody wants to attack Iran – that's good, but what will happen after the attack?" said Mr. Peres. "Some people say it will make Iran powerless for two to three years. That's not good enough," he said emphatically.
It has been widely speculated that Israel is on the verge of launching such an attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continually warns about the threat posed by Iran, especially to Israel. And he lets it be known he views actions taken thus far to rein in the Tehran regime as little better than appeasement.
In his remarks last week at Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, Mr. Netanyahu chastised those "who do not like when I speak such uncomfortable truths. They prefer that we not speak of a nuclear Iran as an existential threat."
Speaking at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre, Mr. Netanyahu likened himself to Ze'ev Jabotinsky, a right-wing Zionist leader who warned the Jews of Poland in the 1930s of the impending Nazi storm "but the leading Jewish intellectuals of the day ridiculed Jabotinsky and, rather than heed his warning, they attacked him," said Mr. Netanyahu.
Mr. Peres, himself a Jew from Poland, delivered a milder warning about Iran at the same ceremony, emphasizing that the regime is a threat to world peace and it is as much the world's responsibility to deal with it as it is Israel's. His remarks were widely viewed here as a cautionary note.
As in Canada, Israel's prime minister runs the government. The presidency is a mostly ceremonial position. But it can be, particularly in the case of a veteran politician and internationally known figure like Mr. Peres, an influential one.
It's not up to Israel to solve a global issue, said Mr. Peres, who will be 89 in August. "Iran is a real problem for the world," he explained in his interview Thursday.
"I don't think when we speak to the United States about Iran we should speak about Israel," Mr. Peres said, speaking at the President's official residence in Jerusalem. "It [should be]about the United States." They too "cannot afford a situation where the Iranians would be governor of the Middle East."
The way to end the threat from Iran, said Mr. Peres, "is to create a coalition of nations, so it won't be just you [the United States]and us. And I think Obama, he built a coalition," he said, referring to U.S. President Barack Obama.
And, Mr. Peres added, "you start with non-military measures, like economic pressure, like political pressure."
The Israeli president also noted that President Obama had assured people that if such measures weren't sufficient, there were "other options" he would consider. "That sounds logical to me," Mr. Peres said.
Mr. Peres's remarks came just three days before he is to arrive in Ottawa on a five-day state visit in which discussions of Iran's nuclear program are expected to play a prominent role. They also come after a week in which a number of Israeli security officials, past and present, have voiced serious reservations about Israel launching an attack on Iran.
Yuval Diskin, the former director of the Shin Bet security service, described Mr. Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak as having messianic complexes and risking taking Israel into an unnecessary war.
The Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Binyamin Gantz, addressed the issue of Iran the day after the Prime Minister's Holocaust speech. Lt.-Gen. Gantz surprised people when he said he considered the Iranian leadership to be composed of rational people who had yet to decide whether to build nuclear weapons.
Some commentators have suggested that a new move by Mr. Netanyahu's Likud party to move up Israeli elections to this fall – a date is expected to be announced next week – would preclude Israel from launching any attack. But Israel has taken pre-emptive measures before.
In 1981, the Likud-led government of Menachem Begin attacked Iraq's nuclear reactor just three weeks before the vote that saw Likud re-elected by a margin of one seat, over the Labour Party, then led by Shimon Peres.