Kislev 20, 5767
Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday moved closer toward lifting Israel's policy
of nuclear ambiguity, a policy that has characterized the state's usual
response to allegations surrounding its nuclear program.
"Israel doesn't threaten any country with anything - never did," Olmert told the German N24 new channel. "The most that we tried to get for ourselves is to be able to live without terror. But we never threatened any nation with annihilation.
"Iran, openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level, when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?"
It was not immediately clear if Olmert's comments, which he made after landing in Berlin for his first visit there as prime minister, were a slip of tongue or intended to disclose Israel's nuclear aspirations.
Incoming U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told a Senate committee last week that Israel has nuclear weapons, saying that this partially explains Iran's motiviation to acquire nuclear weapons.
Though Israel is widely assumed to have a nuclear weapons arsenal, it has stuck to its policy of ambiguity on the subject, insisting against all the evidence that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. A retired Israeli general said Thursday Israel is no longer trying to convince anyone that it has no nuclear arsenal.
Olmert on Monday also called on Germany to cut its vast economic ties with Iran, saying Berlin's obligations toward Israel were greater because of its Nazi past.
MKs slam Olmert's remarks on nuclear program
Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin said in response to the comments, "The prime minister's astonishing remark on nuclear weapons displays his carelessness, even abandonment, and places a doubt whether the man is suitable to be prime minister."
MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) called for Olmert's resignation because of "the problematic slips of tongue regarding security issues." Steinitz added that, "the unfortunate remarks in Germany harms the 50-year policy of nuclear ambiguity, and joins the irresponsible slips of tongue like the awful message about the fate of the kidnapped soldiers in Lebanon. A prime minister, who is incapable of controlling his remarks concerning sensitive security issues, must resign and leave the keys."
MKK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) said that if Olmert's remarks were intentionally meant as a change in policy, and not a slip of the tongue, then he should publicly announce "a clear message for the free world that if you don't stop Iran, we will stop it at any price."
Olmert calls on Germany to cut economic ties with Iran
In comments broadcast Monday ahead of his visit to Berlin, Olmert said Germany must not use business as a pretext for a relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has described the Holocaust as a "myth" and called for Israel to be wiped off the map.
The broadcast also coincided with a widely criticized conference in Tehran attended by prominent Holocaust deniers from around the world.
"May I suggest to the German people, don't ever again use this argument when it comes to the life of the Jewish people. You may have an economic interest, you may have a business interest, but you have deeper and more fundamental moral obligation to yourself, to your history and to your future," he told the German TV station N24, Sat1. "This is a responsibility of the highest order."
Since World War II, Germany has paid billions of dollars in reparations to Israel and victims of the Holocaust, and relations between the countries are strong.
Israel has welcomed Germany's efforts to help curb Iran's nuclear program. Israel believes Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies.
Olmert remained coy about Israel's own nuclear capabilities, sending a jab at incoming U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who in his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate last week openly stated that Israel had a nuclear bomb.
When asked about the bomb, Olmert cut the interviewer off, saying, "I'm
certain you can go to the secretary of defense of America and talk to him
Israel is widely believed to possess several hundred nuclear warheads, but it has consistently stuck to a policy of ambiguity, insisting it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.
Olmert did not address the issue in the interview but reacted angrily when asked if Israel's alleged nuclear program weakened the Western case against Iran, saying no such comparisons should be made.
"Israel is a democracy, Israel doesn't threaten any country with anything, never did. The most that we tried to get for ourselves is to try to live without terror but we never threaten another nation with annihilation. Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map," he said.
He also noted that the U.S., Russia, France and Great Britain possess nuclear weapons, but there was no equating them with a country like Iran.
"You are talking about civilized countries that do not threaten the
foundations of the world, that do not threaten other countries that they will use the nuclear weapons in order to destroy them. That is why there is a big difference," he said.
In the wide-ranging interview, Olmert said he would consider an offer to
dispatch German troops to the Gaza Strip as part of an international
peacekeeping force, but said the proposal must be clarified and understood before Israel gave its final go-ahead.
"Do you want German soldiers to be killed in Gaza because of terror? Do the Italians want their soldiers to be killed in terrorist actions in Gaza?" he asked. "I don't say no to anything that advances peace but I don't hasten to say yes to something that is not understood and which may prove to be very, very damaging to the countries involved."