Israel declines comment on Mandela's allegations

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

JERUSALEM -- Israel refused to comment Tuesday on remarks by former South African President Nelson Mandela, who assailed the U.S. policy on Iraq and complained that Israel was not being forced to surrender weapons of mass destruction.

Mandela made his remarks Thursday at the International Women's Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The former South Africa president had repeatedly condemned U.S. behavior toward Iraq and demanded that President Bush respect the authority of the United Nations. But his comments last week were far more critical.

"One power with a president who has no foresight and cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust," the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said.

"Why is the United States behaving so arrogantly?" he asked. "All that Bush wants is Iraqi oil," he said.

Mandela, 84, also charged that while the Americans insist that Iraq rid itself of weapons of mass destruction, "their friend Israel has got weapons of mass destruction, but because it's their ally, they won't ask the United Nations to get rid of them."

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that it would have no comment on Mandela's remarks.

But U.S. officials responded quickly last week, pointing to a letter by eight European leaders expressing support of Bush on Iraq.

"The president expresses his gratitude to the many leaders of Europe who obviously feel differently" than Mandela, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "He understands there are going to be people who are more comfortable doing nothing about a growing menace that could turn into a holocaust."

In New York, the Zionist Organization of America denounced Mandela's statement. ZOA National President Morton Klein said in a statement, "We deplore Mandela's outrageous and immoral attempt to portray the terrorist dictator Saddam Hussein as an innocent victim of American aggression, and to put Israel on the same level as Saddam."

During the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel, causing considerable damage but few casualties. All had conventional warheads. Israel is preparing for the possibility that if there is a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, Saddam might try to hit Israel with chemical or biological weapons in retaliation.

Israel has never acknowledged having weapons of mass destruction, though foreign experts consistently have concluded that Israel has nuclear weapons.

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