Israeli president says sanctions against Iran a priority, use of force remains an option

Israeli President Shimon Peres said that deterring Iran must start via non-violent options and that sanctions against Tehran must be tried. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said sanctions nor diplomacy will deter Iran. (Reuters)

Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday said sanctions against Iran must be tried first, but that the use of force as an option must remain on the table.

Peres appeared to contradict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s earlier comments to Fox News on Wednesday in which he said that threatening Iran with military attacks would be more effective than diplomacy.

The Israeli president, who spoke in Los Angeles, said Israel does not need a “public debate” before taking military action against Iran. He said economic sanctions were the first course of action in pressing the Islamic republic to give up its nuclear ambitions and its threat to the Jewish state, but not the only one.

“I think we have to try first sanctions, and then we shall see,” he said, noting that “in the case of South Africa, sanctions did the job,” as they arguably did in Libya and Ukraine.

“If we have to choose, let’s start with the non-violent ... saying very clearly (that) all other options are on the table,” he told an audience in Beverly Hills.

Pressed about the threat of military strikes against Iran ̶ much discussed during a visit by Netanyahu to Washington this week ̶ Peres said: “I don’t think that we have to make a public debate ahead of time.”

In Washington last weekend Peres vowed that Israel “shall prevail” if forced to fight Iran, which he referred to as “an evil, cruel and morally corrupt regime” bent on controlling the Middle East.

“Iran’s ambition is to control the Middle East, so it can control a major part of the world’s economy. It must be stopped. And it will be stopped,” Peres told a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group on Sunday.

Netanyahu said that an attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities is not “inevitable” and expressed doubts over Obama’s diplomatic course to solve the Iranian issue and the fresh round of talks between Western powers and Tehran.

The Israeli prime minister compared himself to Winston Churchil, the British prime minister who led Great Britain through World War II, in sounding the “jarring gong of danger.”

He rebuffed Obama’s demand to end the “loose talk of war” and “blustering” over Iran, citing fear as the most plausible tactic to deter Iran than sanctions.

“We’ve seen, in fact, that Iran backed off from its nuclear program, its nuclear weapons program, really only once in the 15, 16 years that I’ve been warning the world about the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. And the only time they backed away was in 2003, when they thought there’d be a credible military threat against them,” he said. “So in fact, the paradox is that if they actually believe that they’re going to face the military option, you probably won't need the military option.”

Obama damped down war rhetoric against Tehran, a stance that was welcomed by the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday. The White House said in a statement that Obama and Netanyahu did not discuss in their meetings an Israeli request for advanced U.S. military technology that could be used against Iran such as bunker buster bombs and refueling planes to improve Israel’s ability to attack Iran’s underground nuclear sites.

U.S. spy and intelligence agencies said in February that there is no “clear” evidence on whether Iran is in fact developing nuclear weapons capabilities. But The Associated Press interviewed diplomats, all nuclear experts accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency, who said that there are satellite images of an Iranian military facility appearing to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at a nuclear site, indicating an attempted cleanup of radioactive traces possibly left by tests of a nuclear-weapon trigger.

During the White House meetings, Obama gave assurances to Netanyahu that even if Tehran was able to move its nuclear program to fortified underground facilities beyond the reach of Israel’s military, the U.S. would still be able to destroy them.

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