Mr. Dimona

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Why does the Israeli president’s expressed opposition to a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran matter, given his largely figurehead role? Because Shimon Peres is the father of Iran’s nuclear program and his coded message is that such action, taken against the wishes of the United States, could imperil Israel’s nuclear deterrence, Israeli analyst Shai Feldman argues on the front page:

The significance of Peres’ intervention in this debate has little to do with the office of the presidency which he now holds. … Instead, it results from Peres’ unique standing as the father of Israel’s own nuclear efforts.

The nuclear reactor in Dimona — the centerpiece of Israel’s nuclear option — was an offspring of the Israeli alliance with France, forged in the mid-1950s. The architect of the alliance was then-Deputy Defense Minister Shimon Peres. …

Moreover, Israelis intuitively understand that the option that Peres helped create is also relevant in the Iranian context. Even if its nuclear facilities will be destroyed, Iran will renew its efforts and may ultimately obtain nuclear weapons. And what then? …Should that happen, it is to Peres that Israelis will owe a great debt because without him this option would not exist. …

Peres also knows well that the key to Israel’s ability to maintain its ultimate strategic deterrent was the willingness of successive US presidents — whether Democrat or Republican — to view Israel as a “special case” in nuclear matters and to exclude it from the tougher stipulations of US nuclear non-proliferation policy. … 

(Photo: Israeli President Shimon Peres meets with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Presidential Palace in Jerusalem August 1, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Wilson/Pool.)

Feldman: Case closed-for now-on Israel Iran strike?


Israel scholar Shai Feldman pronounces the Israeli debate on attacking Iran over. The two chief proponents of Israeli action, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, “did not bluff, but they were defeated”–at least for now, Feldman, a scholar at Brandeis and Harvard’s Belfer Center, writes at Foreign Policy’s Mideast Channel:

For all practical purposes this weekend ended the Israeli debate on attacking Iran. What tipped the scales were two developments. The first was the decision of the country’s president, Shimon Peres, to make his opposition to a military strike public. The second was an interview given by a former key defense advisor of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, questioning for the first time publically whether his former superior and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are fit to lead Israel in time of war.[…]

Contrary to what many think, Netanyahu and Barak … did not bluff, but they were defeated. With President Peres publicly joining the many formidable opponents of a military strike and General Sagi raising questions about the competence of Israel’s current leaders, Israel now lacks the minimal consensus required for a demanding military campaign to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations. The debate has been settled. At least for now.

But two veteran Israeli analysts said they were not convinced the debate is over at all.

“While Shimon Peres’ statement was of extraordinary importance, the logic underlining Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak’s rationale remains intact,” former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas told Al Monitor Monday by email.

“They are convinced that the ‘timetable gap’ that exists between the US and Israel will not change,” Pinkas continued. “The one game-changer that is still available are US assurances pertaining to a US military strike sometime around spring 2013, if all else fails.”

“No. I don’t think it’s over,” Israeli national security correspondent Yossi Melman told Al Monitor by email. Melman, co-author of a new book on Israeli espionage, Spies Against Armaggedon, noted that Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror on Monday briefed Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas political party, on Iran. The briefing was seen as an effort to try to sway Shas’ two cabinet ministers in favor of possible Israeli action on Iran.

“So it’s far from over,” Melman said. “I still think Israel will [probably] not attack before [the US] elections, but …. Netanyahu and Barak seem to be still very determined.”

(Photo: Israeli President Shimon Peres meets with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Presidential Palace in Jerusalem August 1, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Wilson/Pool)