Israel's fifth president has publicly backed current President Shimon Peres over his remarks concerning an Israeli strike on Iran. Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's circle had deemed the comments out of line.
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"It's clear to President Peres, just as it was clear to me, that it isn't the president's job to interfere in the government's decisions," Yitzhak Navon said in a press statement released on Friday.
"But there are situations that go beyond the ordinary rules, moments of fateful decisions for the nation and the country, situations in which you are obligated to say what you believe, even if you are president of the state. I feel that if I were in President Peres' place, I would have acted as he did."
On Thursday, Peres had said Israel should not act alone against Iran's nuclear program, but should instead rely on U.S. President Barack Obama to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. That caused Netanyahu aides to claim that Peres had "forgotten the role of a president in the State of Israel."
But Navon, who was president from 1978 to 1983, disagreed. "I intervened during my term when I felt this was my obligation as a human being," he noted.
For instance, after Israel's Lebanese allies massacred Palestinian refugees in Beirut's Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in 1982, "I publicly urged the formation of a state commission of inquiry chaired by a judge, in defiance of the views of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who favored an inquiry by an Israel Defense Forces officer. In the end, my position was adopted by the cabinet."
"A man like Shimon Peres can't not speak his mind when he feels the fatefulness of the hour and believes with all his heart that it's his obligation to exert influence," Navon added.
The Obama administration also praised Peres' remarks. "We certainly were gratified to see President Peres' comments on this topic," the White House's principal deputy press secretary, Josh Earnest, told reporters.
Obama's commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons "is rock solid," he added, and this is "something that we've conveyed in the many private conversations that are going on every day between the Obama administration and our counterparts and colleagues in Israel."