Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Renewed Angst Over Iran in Israel

by Joseph Puder

In preparation for the January 2013 elections announced by Israel’s Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu on October 9, 2012, the major parties have begun to present their platforms.  What to do about Iran is once again engaging all major Israeli politicians.  It seems that Netanyahu’s attempt earlier this year to tune down public talk about “action against Iran” has not worked.  Instead, the Iran issue has resurfaced with renewed vigor.  The arguments the various political figures present seem to echo the lines of the U.S. presidential contenders.  The left-of-center parties and the far-left are employing U.S. President Barack Obama’s line of diplomacy and sanctions, while the center-right parties want the West, and the U.S. in particular, to put the military option along with sanctions and diplomacy on the table as Mitt Romney had done.

In Jerusalem on July 29, 2012, Mitt Romney gave his backing to a unilateral Israeli military strike against Iran, insisting he would not stand-by while the “ayatollahs in Tehran” threatened to wipe the Jewish state “off the map.”  Romney went on to say that “The threat it [Iran] would pose to Israel, the region and the world is incomparable and unacceptable.”

President Obama, according to the NY Times (September 13, 2012) “rejected an appeal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to spell out a specific ‘red line‘ that Iran could not cross in its nuclear program, deepening the divide between the allies over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” Obama was unwilling to agree on any specific action by the US even if Iran reaches a defined threshold on nuclear material or fails to adhere to a deadline on negotiations.

Ehud Barak, the current Defense Minister (DM) in Netanyahu’s government, who is unlikely to remain the Defense Minister after the January 2013 Israeli elections, revealed in an interview with the British Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, October 30, 2012, that Iran’s decision to transfer the enriched uranium for civilian purposes “delayed the moment of truth” by eight to ten months, and has avoided an immediate and critical crisis.  Barak pointed out that had the Iranians not moved on the enriched uranium, the situation would have come to a boiling point even before the U.S. elections.  According to Barak, the decision on whether and how to act against Iran will be made in 2013.

Asked for an explanation on the Iranian move, Barak replied that the public debate of an Israeli or American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was a factor.  The Iranians made this diplomatic move to prevent the escalation of the debate over an attack on Iran before the U.S. elections to gain time.  It was also a way for the Iranian regime to “convince” the IAEA that they are fulfilling their obligations.  Barak clarified however that the sanctions against Iran and all the diplomatic activities have failed to resolve the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program.  As a result, Barak said, “Israel and its allies will have to settle the issue of military action against the Iranian nuclear facilities next year.”  Israel, he added, “reserves the right to operate alone if necessary.”  He declared that “any action against Iran now is less dangerous than later when Iran will cross the nuclear threshold.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Paris for an official meeting with French President Francois Hollande, on Wednesday, October 31, 2012, told reporters, “Given the history of the Jewish people, I would not sit by and write off a threat by those who say they are going to annihilate us.”  He said Arab nations, too, would be “relieved” if Iran were militarily prevented from obtaining nuclear arms.  “Five minutes after [an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities,] contrary to what skeptics say, I think a feeling of relief would spread across the region,” said Netanyahu in an interview with French magazine Paris Match. Netanyahu further declared that “Iran is not popular in the Arab world, far from it, and some governments in the region, as well as their citizens, have understood that a nuclear-armed Iran would be dangerous for them, not just for Israel.”

Yair Lapid, the former journalist-turned-centrist politician, whose new party Yesh Atid (There is a Future) is slated to become the second or third largest party in Israel’s Knesset (parliament), warned against a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran.  Speaking at the Ariel University Center (Samaria), Lapid said, “Israel should not try to solve the Iranian problem for the world, let the world solve the Iranian problem for us.”

Tamar Zandberg, a newcomer to politics and a Knesset candidate of the far-left Meretz party, has demonstrated against a preemptive Israeli attack on Iran.

On the other side of the political spectrum, deputy Prime Minister MK Silvan Shalom, stated in an interview with the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv on October 27, 2012, that “no one can live with the thought of ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads aimed at Israel.”

Former chairman of Israel’s Labor Party Binyamin Fuad Ben-Eliezer, considered one of the party’s elder statesmen, opined on an attack on Iran in an interview with Maariv on October 20, 2012:
Iran cannot be allowed to become nuclear, but there shouldn’t be any action next year.  The problem with Iran is not immediate.  Iran would require two years to have an operational bomb, and even then, it will be used first and foremost against the Sunni-Muslim world and the Emirates.  An attack on Iran does not rise to an urgent level, it is not a hand grenade presented by Netanyahu’s diagram at the U.N. but a long process. And, as someone who has been involved in the defense establishment, I say that the real danger is not Iran but the Arab Spring.  Waking up to a world that is fanatically Islamist and hateful towards Israel is a situation in which we have no control over.
The current leader of the Labor party, Shelly Yachimovich, interviewed on the Israel Channel 2 TV (May 5, 2012), backed the Obama position that there is still time to see if economic sanctions and diplomacy can stop Iran from seeking nuclear weapons before having to decide on any military steps.  She called Iran’s nuclear program a “problem for the entire world, and criticized Netanyahu saying, “The fact that we take it upon ourselves to be the spearhead on Iran is an error.”

Barak, who has partnered with Netanyahu on Iran until now, has broken away and endorsed Obama’s policy on Iran.  MK Moshe Ya’alon, former Israel Defense Forces Chief-of-Staff and current Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Planning, angrily criticized Barak in a speech he gave on October 13, 2012, stating that “Something happened in the Iranian story which is irregular and caused the PM Netanyahu to be furious.  DM [Barak] preferred political consideration over national consideration.  PM Netanyahu thought that the DM was with him all the way on the Iranian issue.  In the end however, the DM pushed Israel up the tree, and in the last minute he escaped and ran off, presenting himself as a moderate.”

With Obama’s relection, the Likud and Netanyahu are no doubt somewhat unhappy.  While the Israeli Left breathes easy for the moment, Iran will remain the primary issue in the January 2013 Israeli elections, and beyond.

Joseph Puder


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