This may be the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass in the final moments of a deadlocked football game, but Haaretz’s columnist Amir Oren, always an interesting observer of the Israeli political scene, writes today (and in Hebrew) that the only political figure who may be able to stop an Israeli attack on Iran is Shimon Peres. I don’t know if he’s right. Though Peres is not a conventional Israeli president who fades into the woodwork, he is still president, a largely honorific and ceremonial post. It’s debatable whether Peres has the power to do what Oren is asking. Though it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he does.
Oren’s column marks the 55th anniversary of the opening of the 1956 Sinai War. This was a military enterprise in which Shimon Peres, along with Moshe Dayan and David Ben Gurion (Peres’ political patron) played decisive roles. From Israel’s point of view there were numerous successes and failures. But among the latter was this:
Israel stained itself morally by hatching a conspiracy with two fading European powers against North African national liberation movements…
This reminds us, that while Iran is certainly no representative of the Arab spring, an Israeli attack upon it will certainly arouse the combined ire of the entire Arab world and place Israel even more firmly among those resisting the forces of history which have swept the region and toppled authoritarian regimes.
The Haaretz columnist also points out that Israel went to war with Britain and France as partners, but without the foreknowledge or support of the U.S. This was a fateful mistake as Pres. Eisenhower became enraged at the military adventure and demanded that conditions be returned to status quo ante, which is more or less what happened. Today, Israel can no longer play this sort of game. It has no military partners as it did in 1956 and the U.S. is its only remaining ally. Without U.S. support or at least connivance, Israel will be hard-pressed to act.
The benefit to Bibi in this case is that Obama is no Ike. He has neither the stature nor the military command experience to face down Bibi if the latter decides to go for broke. So the question is whether Leon Panetta gave Israel a green, yellow or red light (as Bush gave Olmert) regarding Iran when he discussed an attack on his last visit. It may perhaps be in realization of this fact that Oren turns to the grey eminence, Peres, to stop the future war (Haaretz’s English translation is defective in the last paragraph, so I’ve partially used it and fixed the errors below):
An Israeli operation against Iran’s nuclear program is liable to recycle the cons of Operation Kadesh, without its benefits. Such a fear is harbored by those who oppose this possible military adventure; the list of negative effects outweighs whatever diplomatic or military advantages might be accrued by such an action, the critics believe. After all, Barak is no Moshe Dayan, and Bibi is no Ben-Gurion.
Only Peres, who is no mere symbolic President (as Yitzhak Ben Zvi was during the 1956 War), remains in power, this time exerting an influence against the military undertaking [as opposed to 1956, when he orchestrated it]. In today’s Theater of Fateful Decisions [as opposed to 1956], there is no playwright [Ben Gurion], director [Dayan], producer [Peres] or actor [IDF]. He [Peres] is just like the esteemed critic, from whose mouth the creative team [Bibi and Barak] awaits word before presenting the play to the public.
His devastating criticism of the dress rehearsal might postpone the premiere or cancel the performance altogether. Critic, don’t keep mum. Soon will come time for him to raise his voice.
Amir Oren is a reporter who enjoys speaking in elaborate allegorical terms especially involving secret intelligence or military operations and so the fact that he uses the theatrical metaphor here is natural. But an Israeli friend notes that the “dress rehearsal” above could very likely refer to actual military maneuvers meant to simulate and prepare for an Iran attack. Israel is known to have done such a preparatory operation a few years ago around the time that Meir Dagan says he talked the ministers out of initiating such an attack. So the likelihood of such a military rehearsal now is very real. The timing would still allow Israel to send its F-16s to bomb Iran before the heavy rains and cloud cover of the Persian Gulf winter sets in, making such an operation less feasible.