The Israeli cross-political divide threatened to intensify Monday after Kadima head Shaul Mofaz called on Benjamin Netanyahu to justify his war aspirations in Iran, as he accused the Israeli Premier of “crossing red lines and neglecting the public discourse” on the legitimacy of a strike.
In a letter to Netanyahu, copies of which were sent to Defense Minsiter Ehud Barak, and the Attorney General, Mofaz called for an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss his Iran agenda. The former coalition partner further expressed concern about the inevitable “loss of life, grave damage to the home front and deep erosion of Israel’s political situation” that a strike would result in, continuing to describe any such action as “immoral and operationally illogical under the circumstances”.
Netanyahu’s shock May announcement his ruling Likud party had formed a national unity government with staunch opponents Kadima gave rise to suspicions it was prompted by a united approach to the Iran issue and that centrist Mofaz had come round to the idea of a possible attack. The announcement was also timed in the imminent lead-up to a second round of talks between western powers and Iran regarding its disputed nuclear weapons programme.
Throughout the short-lived coalition, however, Mofaz advocated the US’ preferred course of diplomacy combined with sanctions to encourage the regime to comply with international demands, calling on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “impose more severe sanctions” on the Iranian administration to halt nuclear weapons development, whilst vaguely invoking the idea of “preparing other options”.
In his message to Netanyahu Monday, he further highlighted the importance he places on maintaining political unity with America, asking the premier “what is the real goal behind widening the rift with the US?” Netanyahu has been criticised for last month offering a reception usually reserved for state leaders to Republican presidential pretender Mitt Romney, showing apparent and unprecedented loser preference for the pro-Israel candidate over incumbent President Barack Obama.
Mofaz slammed this decision as “a blunt and illegitimate intervention in internal US political processes in the run-up to the presidential election”, in reference to the widely-held belief in pro-Israel circles that a Romney-led administration would be a closer friend to the Jewish State than Obama, whom Romney has accused of “throwing Israel under a bus” in international forums.
Israel has also been portrayed as trying to sway America into launching a military offensive ahead of its desired agenda, and despite White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declaring last week Obama feels “there is still time and space for diplomacy”.
Israeli President Shimon Peres was also criticised by Netanyahu’s entourage last week for overstepping the largely ceremonial status of his role by publicly declaring Israel “cannot go it alone” in striking Iran without American backing.
Provoking analysis of the real internal reasons for the coalition split earlier this month, Mofaz claimed the “unrestrained attack you led against the president over the weekend points to a general loss of senses and control” of himself and of his “group of anonymous advisers”, adding that the degree of reaction Peres’ statement provoked portrays “a grave picture illustrated by your true intentions at this time”.
Peres’ personal respect for Obama is thought to have been a key factor in his televised comments, as he has previously paid tribute to his American counterpart as “a great leader, a genuine friend”.
Netanyahu, by contrast, has increasingly adopted a more insular stance to Israeli foreign policy concerns, insisting Israel can only rely on itself in matters of security, to which argument Peres responded: “Israel needs to depend on itself, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to give up on its friends.”
Speaking to Army Radio, Mofaz reiterated the US party line that Iran has “yet to reach a final decision about weaponising their uranium” which meant that any decision regarding military action was not of urgent priority. Levelling that “Netanyahu’s lack of faith in Obama” was his main deciding factor in waging war on Iran, he added: “I am convinced (Obama) will do anything to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran...If there is no choice, if the US turns its back to us, Israel will make sure that the threat is removed. But we are not there yet”.
Notably, Mofaz used some of the Israeli administration’s key criticisms of its enemies Iran and Hezbollah in launching the attack on Netanyahu. On a visit to Brussels last month, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that any attempt by the Syrian regime to arm Lebanese militant group Hezbollah with chemical and biological weaponry with which they could attack Israel would be “crossing a red line” and that in such a case “Israel would not restrain itself from acting forcefully”.
Israel’s habitual use of the phrase has been to highlight the differing timelines Israel and the US have in mind with regard to militarised action in Iran and Israel’s inherent need to act in the interests of its own security, however Mofaz used it to subvert that argument and, like Peres, place his trust in Obama’s judgement.
Stressing the extent of his concerns, he specifically called on the leader to reveal details of the country’s emergency medical preparedness, foreign currency reserves, fuel reserves, civil aviation implications, ports preparedness and strategic installations and evacuation plans.
A survey released by the Dialogue Institute last week found that only 32% of Israelis are in favour of a pre-emptive strike on Iran. The news came as Netanyahu’s approval rating with the Israeli electorate fell from 46% three months ago to 34% following the collapse of the coalition government and reports of an imminent attack on Iran.