Israel's Olmert calls for action against Iran

Thursday, January 25, 2007

HERZLIYA, Israel -- Prime Minister Ehud Olmert devoted one of his most important policy speeches of the year Wednesday to a single topic -- Iran -- saying Israel will respond to a nuclear threat "with all the means at our disposal." Addressing an annual security conference in this seaside city, he said the international community has no choice but to act forcefully against Iran and its president, Mahmoud Ahmedinajad, who has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction. "When the leader of a country announces, officially and publicly, his country's intention to wipe off the map another country, and creates those tools which will allow them to realize their stated threat, no nation has the right to even to weigh its position," Olmert said. "It is the obligation of every country to act against this with all its might." Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but Israel believes its goal is to build nuclear weapons that could threaten the Jewish state's existence.

Olmert has made similar declarations before. But Israel has been vague about whether it would be willing to carry out military strikes against Iran, though it has not ruled them out.

"The Jewish people, with the scars of the Holocaust fresh on its body, cannot afford to allow itself to face threats of annihilation once again," Olmert said.

"Anyone who threatens us, who threatens our existence, must know that we have the determination and capability of defending ourselves, responding with force, discretion and with all the means at our disposal," he added.

Olmert said Israel supports using diplomacy to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions and said there is still time for international pressure to work.

"As serious as the Iranian threat is, the threat of nuclear attack on Israel is by no means imminent," he said.

"The Iranian issue preoccupies me and my thoughts constantly," Olmert said.

Olmert's speech diverged from a precedent set by his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, who used the Herzliya gathering as a forum for setting out new policies, like Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

Olmert's decision to devote the high-profile speech to Iran reflected his country's growing concern over the issue. The four-day security conference at Herziliya was overwhelmingly about Iran.

Before launching into the Iranian issue, however, Olmert offered a few sentences about Israel's embattled president, Moshe Katsav.

Olmert called on Katsav to resign after the attorney general announced his intention to press criminal charges, including rape, against him.

"Under these circumstances, there is no doubt in my mind that the president cannot continue to fulfill his position and he must leave the president's residence," Olmert said.

Olmert's call for Katsav to step down came minutes after the president finished an emotional address to journalists, insisting that he would not resign unless he is actually indicted.

Olmert himself is under a legal cloud. Police are investigating his role in the 2005 sale of one of Israel's largest banks by the government after allegations that he tried to skew the tender in favor of supporters.

His speech at the Herzliya conference was coolly received, with no breaks for applause, reflecting his loss of popularity because of the inconclusive results of last summer's war in Lebanon.

Outside the hall, a handful of demonstrators called on Olmert to resign because of that war.

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