President Shimon Peres joined the chorus of senior Israeli leaders commenting on the issue of a nuclear Iran for the first time on Thursday, taking an unequivocal stand on Israel’s right to defend itself against “the epicenter of moral corruption and global terrorism.”
Peres denied an earlier report that appeared in the newspaper Ha’aretz, which suggested he intended to tell U.S. President Barack Obama during their upcoming meeting that he opposes a military strike on Iran, while emphasizing that he doesn’t believe any option should be taken off the table against the regime in Tehran.
“When we say that all the options are on the table, we mean it,” Peres said in a speech on Thursday before the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem. “A nuclear Iran is a strategic threat not only to Israel but to the entire world. Iran is the epicenter of moral corruption and global terrorism. Iran with a nuclear bomb is a catastrophe. Israel has a right to protect itself.”
Regarding the steps the West planned to take against Iran, the president said, “We’ve seen more severe sanctions against Iran as of late, led by President Obama, and we’ve seen his ability to lead a coalition against Iran in coordination with Europe and other countries. I am grateful for this, and I am also well aware that those same leaders share our view – intensify economic sanctions, but at the same time keep all options open.”
A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was pleased Peres made it a point to deny the Ha’aretz report. Meanwhile, according to a PMO statement, all government ministers have been instructed to refrain from discussing the Iranian issue publicly unless being explicitly authorized to do so. A source in the PMO said the reason for this was Netanyahu’s belief that “all the chatter is dangerous.”
Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, although a U.N. nuclear watchdog mission ended in failure this week when the Islamic Republic denied officials permission to visit a site suspected of housing a facility to test explosives.
Also speaking at the Conference of Presidents was U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who said that the U.S. and Israel were coordinated on steps being taken to combat Iran’s nuclear threat.
Shapiro indicated that U.S.-Israel coordination was productive and close, adding that a constant stream of visits by senior U.S. officials to Israel and vice versa was ensuring both administrations remained coordinated on how to tackle Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Netanyahu visits Washington early next month and will meet Obama on March 5, with Iran set to top the agenda.
“It’s the kind of dialogue, I assure you, that you would want two allies facing a common security challenge to be having. It is that quality, it’s that detail, it’s that [intimacy] and it’s exactly what should be happening. It will continue when Prime Minister Netanyahu visits Washington,” Shapiro said. The ambassador added, “It’s also true, as the president has said … we are coordinated with our Israeli partners … that other options, all other options, are on the table to achieve that goal … the necessary planning has been done to ensure that those options are actually available if at any time they become necessary.”
In another sign of strong U.S.-Israel coordination, Defense Minister Ehud Barak plans to visit the U.S. next week and meet with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Netanyahu, for his part, is scheduled to fly to Canada next Thursday, after which he is expected to continue to Washington.
The one detail that continues to stymie both nations is the question of timing: While Israel argues that the right time to attack is just prior to Iran fortifying its nuclear weapons project deep underground and proceeding to what Barak calls a “stage of immunity,” the U.S. argues that an attack on Iran would only become inevitable when it begins to actually assemble a nuclear weapon.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said Thursday that Israel and the IDF were facing a wide scope of threats, ranging from anywhere between “the knife’s blade and a nuclear bomb.”
“At the center of the strategic map are two elements,” Gantz said. “One – the great shakeup and change overtaking the Middle East, and the second – the advanced stage of Iran’s nuclear weapons program…. Some elements we will eventually have to face, within any range of time and by using any measure of action.”