How Shimon Peres Stopped Israel From Bombing Iran

But the Israeli president's opposition to the military option may come at a price.

Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit

It was close. Very, very close. In 2010-2012, Israel was repeatedly on the verge of attacking Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Avigdor Lieberman considered it their duty to stop Iran’s nuclear program, as they didn’t believe the world would do so. Therefore, they prepared an Israeli military option, weighed it seriously and were even on the brink of exercising it. Three senior ministers (Moshe Ya’alon, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin) and three senior defense officials (Gabi Ashkenazi, Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin) prevented them.

But the person who spearheaded the opposition to exercising the military option was President Shimon Peres. The president worked both at home and abroad to prevent an attack on Iran – and he succeeded. The man behind the Dimona nuclear reactor did it again as he neared his 90th birthday: He diverted the course of history. Peres prevented an attack and prevented a war and prevented a grave national crisis.

But today, it is clear that this victory by the president over the prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister also came at a heavy price. A year after the Israeli military option was taken off the international table, Iran has 19,000 centrifuges that enable it to achieve nuclear breakout very quickly. A year after the Israeli military option was nullified, Iran is becoming a legitimate regional power. With the West courting it and growing addicted to its lies, Iran is about to become a nuclear threshold state.

Shimon Peres may have succeeded in beating Benjamin Netanyahu, but as things stand now, he didn’t succeed in beating Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. The super-statesman who figured out how to prevent Israel from bombing still hasn’t figured out how to stop the Iranian bomb.

There’s no doubt about what would have happened in Israel – and overseas – had Netanyahu, Barak and Lieberman won the dramatic debate over Iran. Today, the three would be giving a harsh accounting for the grave ramifications of their decision: the captive pilots, the slain civilians, the missiles that set Tel Aviv on fire.

But because Peres won the dramatic debate on Iran, he is liable to be the one who will someday have to give an accounting for the likely ramifications of his victory: a nuclear Iran, a nuclear Middle East, a new and threatening reality. Just as action carries a price, so does inaction. If the end result of the Peres victory is a Pyrrhic victory, that is how he will go down in history. Thus it is now the president’s duty to do everything he can to prevent this.

The writer of these words holds Peres in tremendous esteem. Peres’ life story is to a large extent the story of our own lives, and Peres’ achievements are the achievements that made our lives possible. Moreover, no other Israeli represents enlightened Israel to the world as Peres does.

But for that very reason, the responsibility that now falls on our first citizen is a heavy one. He must prove he didn’t err when he claimed the United States would stop the Iranians. He must prove he didn’t err when he promised that the international community wouldn’t turn its back on Israel. He must prove that the path he led us down doesn’t lead to the abyss.

The president is now 90 years old, but he still has all his old vigor. Therefore, he must now turn over every stone and open every door to make the Americans sober up. He must utilize his international standing to effect a sharp turnabout in the international community’s policy. He must cash in the promissory notes he personally received from U.S. President Barack Obama.

The same indefatigable talents that he employed in Paris in the 1950s must now be employed in the Western capitals in 2013. For if Peres doesn’t rouse the world at the 11th hour, it isn’t only Dimona and Oslo that will star in his biography, but also Natanz and Fordo.

Shimon PeresCredit: AP