Former Israeli Premier Assails Netanyahu on Iran (NY) TIMES) By ANNE BARNARD 04/30/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel, plunged on Sunday
into the country’s growing debate over Iran policy with harsh
criticism of his successor, Benjamin Netanyahu.
As several recently retired top security officials have done, Mr.
Olmert urged Mr. Netanyahu’s government not to rush into unilateral
military action against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.
But Mr. Olmert went much further. Drawing boos from a largely
American audience in New York, he fired off a wide-ranging broadside
against Mr. Netanyahu’s foreign policy, saying that the prime
minister was unprepared to offer meaningful compromise to
Palestinians, disrespectful to the United States and dismissive of
the international community at a time when Israel particularly needs
foreign support to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
“A nation has the right to determine what it should do to defend
itself,” Mr. Olmert said at a conference held in a Manhattan hotel by
The Jerusalem Post. “But when at the same time we ask the United
States and other countries to provide us with the means to do it, no
one is entirely independent to act, irrespective of the positions and
attitudes and policies of other countries.”
Since leaving office in 2008, Mr. Olmert has often urged caution
concerning Iran. His remarks on Sunday were noteworthy for their
place and time — before an audience of some of Mr. Netanyahu’s
strongest American supporters, and only a few days after Israel’s top
military officer suggested that the threat posed by Iran was less
urgent than Mr. Netanyahu has said, and the former head of Israel’s
internal security service said the prime minister had “messianic
Illustrating how visceral the debate has become, and how entwined it
is with politics in both Israel and the United States, some in the
crowd peppered Mr. Olmert with shouts of “Naïve!” and “Neville
Chamberlain!” and booed loudly when he called for a less
confrontational stance toward President Obama, whose political
opponents Mr. Netanyahu has openly courted.
“You have to respect him,” Mr. Olmert said of Mr. Obama. “He is the
president of the most powerful nation on earth, and happens to be a
friend of Israel.” When boos rang through the conference room in
response, he joked, “I can see that this hall is full of Democrats.”
Mr. Olmert was booed again when he declared that while Israel should
prepare the military ability to strike Iran’s nuclear program as a
last resort, it should first push for American-led international
action against Iran, including sanctions and possible joint military
This time, he responded caustically.
“As a concerned Israeli citizen who lives in the state of Israel with
his family and all of his children and grandchildren,” he said, “I
love very much the courage of those who live 10,000 miles away from
the state of Israel and are ready that we will make every possible
mistake that will cost lives of Israelis.”
Israeli politics suffused Sunday’s conference. Mr. Olmert noted that
critics of Mr. Netanyahu have ascribed the prime minister’s urgent
rhetoric on Iran to political considerations. His remarks on the
Palestinian issue may add to recent pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to tack
to the left before the next election, which is now expected as early
as the fall.
Mr. Netanyahu plans to call this week for a renewal of talks with the
Palestinians, proposing direct negotiations with no preconditions,
according to The Israel Project, an advocacy group that promotes the
positions of the Israeli government.
Although Mr. Olmert is embroiled in a corruption scandal at home and
faces a possible prison term, Israel is a country where political
comebacks are common, so his remarks in New York on Sunday may
reflect domestic political calculations of his own.
His Kadima Party was formed to offer a center-right alternative to
Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud bloc.
Gilad Erdan, the Israeli environment minister, defended the
government’s policy on Sunday, saying that Iranian nuclear weapons
could provide an umbrella to militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah
or even “find their way into terrorist hands,” calling that
scenario “too terrifying to even consider.”
In an interview after his appearance at the conference, Mr. Olmert
said he was expressing legitimate concerns shared by most people in
the Israeli security establishment, “present and past,” including
many who have not spoken publicly.
Two such former officials, Gabi Ashkenazi, the former chief of staff
of the Israeli Defense Forces, and Eliezer Shkedy, the former air
force commander, told the conference on Sunday that an international
approach to Iran was preferable.
In the past, Mr. Shkedy has, like Mr. Netanyahu, compared the threat
of a nuclear-armed Iran to the Holocaust.
At the conference, The Jerusalem Post released results of a recent
poll indicating that most Israelis would back a military strike on
Iran by an American-led coalition but fewer than half by Israel alone.
Mr. Olmert said in the interview that Israel should quietly build
American support behind the scenes, and not publicly declare that it
will act with or without America, given its dependence on American
military aid and hardware.
“America is not a client state of Israel — maybe the opposite is
true,” he said. “Why should we want America to be put in a situation
where whatever they do will be interpreted as if they obeyed orders
Mr. Olmert warned that Mr. Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud
Barak, having likened Iran to Nazi Germany, may find themselves
unable to back down from military action.
“They talk too much, they talk too loud,” he said in the
interview. “They are creating an atmosphere and a momentum that may
go out of their control.” (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company
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