The brother of newly-elected Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said here on Monday that Israel “will not allow” Iran to acquire nuclear weapons capability, and will launch a unilateral military strike if necessary to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities.
Dr. Josef Olmert, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in the early 1990s, told an audience at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles that “Iran is an existential issue” for Israel, because successive Iranian leaders have openly evoked the possibility of a nuclear exchange with the Jewish state.
Olmert now works with Israel’s mission to the United Nations in New York and with “The Israel Project,” an advocacy group in Washington, DC.
His brother, who became Prime Minister after elections in March, will visit Washington, D.C. next week to meet with President Bush. Accompanying him will be Dr. Eli Levita, deputy director of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, who will brief U.S. officials on what Israel has learned about Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons capability.
“Iran will not be allowed to get to the point where they will have the capability to destroy the state of Israel,” Olmert said. “We shall prevail, and Iran will fail.”
He was addressing a forum on Iran organized by Israel Christian Nexus, a group that brings Christian churches and synagogues together in support of the state of Israel.
Asked by the audience whether Israel favored regime change in Iran, as advocated by many Iranian-American organizations, the younger Olmert said that “Israel can’t wait for the hope of regime change in Iran. Time is running out.”
He noted that the timetable for military strikes must occur when Iran develops acquires the capability to make nuclear weapons, long before it acquires the weapons themselves. “People tell me that this means months and not years,” he added.
Many intelligence agencies, including Israel’s, believe it could take several additional years to actually produce an arsenal of weapons. Iran announced it had succeeded in enriching uranium last month, a milestone that Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph has said is the “point of no return” in achieving weapons capability.
Israel needed to make its intentions clear, as a warning to Iran but also to its friends in the United States and elsewhere, Olmert said. “We believe the Iranians when they say they want to wipe Israel off the map. We take them seriously. We monitor their activities. We have the ability to monitor their activities.”
Israel recently launched a new spy satellite, Eros-B, capable of photograph objects on the ground as small as 70 centimeters, according to Ha’aretz newspaper. Commenting on the April 24 launch, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that Israel would not “turn a blind eye” to the Iranian threat.
Iran has announced it will install 3,000 additional centrifuges in its buried enrichment plant at Natanz by the end of the year. While the satellite can not see what is taking place inside the plant, it can observe comings and goings, and log how many trucks arrive – key indicators of the type of activity taking place at the plant.
Olmert recalled the warnings issued to incoming President Ronald Reagan in January 1981 about the threat Israel saw from Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program, a time when Olmert was in the government.
After three months, the Israeli warnings ceased and the Americans “simply assumed” that Israel had changed its assessment of Saddam’s nuclear plans and that the attack was off the table, Olmert said
When Israel launched an air strike against Iraq’s French-built nuclear reactor (nick-named “O’Chirac” after then French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, who signed the deal with Saddam in 1975), Reagan administration officials professed “shock,” even though they had been warned repeatedly, he said.
The same could happen today with Iran, he warned.
Israel would much prefer taking part in an international coalition with the United States and Europe to disarm Iran, but would strike alone if that became necessary, he said.
“If a decision has to be made by an Israeli leader, it will be carried out in the right time and it will be successful.
“Take it for granted. We shall not allow this to happen,” Olmert added, referring to a nuclear-armed Iran.
Israeli leaders have escalated the rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear weapons program in recent weeks, with former prime minister and Nobel Peace prize winner Shimon Peres telling the Jerusalem Post that Israel, too, could “wipe Iran off the map,” just as Iran had threatened to do to Israel.
On Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in Malaysia that Israel “one day will vanish,” and predicted the same fate would befall America