Presidential Threats

Iran does not need reminders about Israel's capabilities, just as Israel is not blind to Iran's military arsenal.

What was the use, on Memorial Day, of President Shimon Peres mentioning Israel's capabilities, while warning Iran of the perils of ignoring those capabilities? It appeared for a moment that the Israeli president had decided to compete with Iran's president with the same type of dangerous rhetoric at which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is so skilled. But when the Israeli president issues threats, or at least a warning, they have many implications, perhaps even more than those made by Ahmadinejad.

When Israel threatens Iran with its "capacities" it reinforces what Israel has refrained from declaring openly: the nuclear potential that is attributed to Israel and the possibility that Israel will use it. Once again, such a threat makes Israel the spearhead in the battle against Iran, presenting the conflict as a bilateral confrontation. All this comes when, after great effort, Iran has become the focus of multilateral action.

Even worse, when the countries of the West, especially the United States, are mobilizing to impose new sanctions on Iran, Israeli military threats, as expressed by the Israeli president or any other top official, are liable to turn the tables. Instead of mobilizing support against Iran, they could stoke international pressure on Israel, portraying the country as a catalyst for the next war in the Middle East.

Iran does not need reminders about Israel's capabilities, just as Israel is not blind to Iran's military arsenal. When Iran outlines the constellation of threats against it, it lumps Israel and the United States together as a single threat; it portrays the U.S. capacity to attack as if it were an indivisible part of Israel's capabilities. This strategic concept should guide Israel when it considers the extent of its power. There is a limitation to this power: necessary coordination between Israel and the United States, even if this coordination appears to make things harder for the people in Israel who advocate a more hawkish policy.

Boasting about the capacity to hit Iran, as the president did, damages wise strategic thinking and thus harms Israel's national interests. Peres would have done better to use Memorial Day as an occasion to put the spotlight on the terrors of war rather than hinting at the next one.