Jacob Heilbrunn

Peres's Warning: The Danger Of Bombing Iran

One of the more notable aspects of the debate over attacking Iran is that it is not really taking place in America but, rather, in Israel. To his credit, President Shimon Peres, who played a key role in developing an Israeli nuclear bomb and who is a longtime advocate of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians, has now stated that it would be reckless for Israel to bomb Iran singlehandedly. He expressed confidence in President Obama—"it is clear to us that we, alone, cannot do this." In response, Netanyahu is apparently declaring, according to the website Arutz Sheva, that "Peres forgot what the role of a president in the state of Israel is."

Which is what, exactly? To remain silent and let Netanyahu drag Israel into a conflict that might have a devasating effect on its security and prosperity? No. Peres was present at the creation of Israel. He knows that it would be an act of moral cowardice not to speak out.

The truth is that sanctions appear to be biting into the economy of Iran. There is no credible evidence that Tehran has succeeded in making rapid strides toward a nuclear weapon. Instead, the thinking in Israel seems to be more political than strategic. As Roger Cohen reports in the New York Times in "Israel's Iran Itch," the idea is that now, in the run-up to the November 6 election, Israel might strike Iran with impunity. Obama, cowed by the prospect of losing Jewish votes, would acquiesce to an Israeli strike. If he is reelected, he might well be less sympathetic to one.

If this assessment is correct, it's no way to run foreign policy. Cohen notes that reports in Israel suggest that the country is ill-prepared for the consequences of a preventive war, for that is what, more or less, it would be, against Iran. Citizens don't even have sufficient gas masks. Perhaps this can be remedied, but not overnight.

The consequences of a war against Iran, however, might well be horrendous, a recipe for wider warfare in the Middle East. Hezbollah would almost certainly attack Israel from Lebanon. Syria is already in flames. Jordan could be threatened with internal instability. No doubt it's worth remembering that the nightmare scenarios that the critics of the first Gulf War predicted never came to pass. The Arab world did not rise en masse against Israel. But the consequences of a war against Iran are unpredictable, which is why it should be approached with great caution.

In assailing Peres' reputation—suggesting that his record as a supporter of the Oslo Peace Accords renders his judgment untenable—Netanyahu's followers are trying to suppress a debate inside Israel. Peres is trying to fuel one. Good for Peres.

It must be said that it is remarkable that a similar controversy is not taking place inside America. Instead, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are trudging faithfully to pay fealty to the self-appointed defender of Israel, Sheldon Adelson, at his Las Vegas casino. In a sense, it is a fully appropriate location. A strike against Iran would be one of the biggest gambles in Israeli history, and the payoff might not be what Netanyahu envisions. Which is why a public airing of the risks of an assault on Iran is precisely what is required before Israel and America embark upon a fresh war in the Middle East. A fierce battle of words about whether or not it is necessary to bomb Tehran makes eminent sense. Firing the guns of August does not.

Image: World Economic Forum