(photo credit: AP)
Continuing a theme he began in Moscow last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resumed talking tough on Iran on Monday, saying that Israel would "prepare for a struggle meant to prevent" Iran from getting non-conventional weapons capabilities.
Olmert's words came as diplomats and Iran experts were divided on the impact the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman, as new minister for strategic affairs regarding Iran, would have on the issue.
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Referring to the world's failure to take Hitler's threats to exterminate the Jews seriously, Olmert told a conference of business leaders in Tel Aviv that "we will never repeat the mistakes made 60 years ago.|"
"We will say to everyone and everywhere that it is impossible to go on with business as usual on these maters," he said. Olmert added that the enlightened world could not continue to "live with the situation" where the leader of one country says it will wipe another country of the map.
Olmert said that Israel would work with all its "strength" to mobilize the entire world to take steps to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.
He did not say how this would be done, just that "we are dealing with this, and will continue to deal with this, day and night."
Over the last week Olmert has markedly moved away from Israel's public diplomacy position of not making overheated comments about Teheran, but rather stressing that a nuclear Iran was the world's problem, not only Israel's.
This policy changed when Olmert was in Moscow and told reporters that Iran would only changed its polices if it felt that would have to "pay a price" and face unwanted consequences for continuing on with its nuclear development program.
Not everyone is comfortable with the change. Silence over Iran, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Monday at the same conference in Tel Aviv, was a critical pillar of Israel's Iran strategy. This quiet "has brought the world to the realization that the Iranian threat is a threat to the entire free world."
In an apparent reference to the appointment of Lieberman, Peretz said, "I'm opposed to the politicization of the Iranian threat."
Uzi Arad, the director of the Institute of Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, told The Jerusalem Post that it was important for one minister to coordinate the policy on Iran, but that he felt that minister should be the prime minister himself.
Arad, who was Binyamin Netanyahu's foreign policy adviser when he was prime minister, said that just as running the relationship with the US and the Palestinians is in the prime minister's hands, and not delegated elsewhere, so too should the policy toward Iran "in all its details" be under Olmert's control.
"If indeed the Iranian issue is the most profoundly threatening strategic issue to Israel, it is the prime minister who should be in charge of this," he said. Arad said that Olmert himself should be the one devoting most of his attention to this matter. "Just as he controls other issues, he should control this one as well," he said.
One diplomatic official dealing with Iran said it was a good idea for one minister to coordinate all the different bodies involved in this matter, and take a "wide view of the Iranian issue." He did not indicate that this needed to be the prime minister.
Among the different bodies dealing with the issue, and often pulling in different directions, are the Mossad, Military Intelligence, the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, the Atomic Energy Commission, the National Security Council and the Prime Minister's Office.
"Someone at the ministerial level has to be on this full-time," he said. "Someone needs to see the big picture." The official said that the handling of the war in Lebanon indicated just how much Israel needed one person to coordinate and plan regarding the Iranian issue.
As to what signal the Lieberman appointment sent to the Iranians, Menashe Amir, Israel Radio's Iranian expert, said that Lieberman is largely an unknown quality in Teheran, although he is considered "intransigent."
"This is another straw on the camel's back," Amir said, adding that it is one more point of pressure that Israel, along with much of the world, is applying on the Iranians.
Amir said that this adds to Israel's deterrence threat toward the Iranians, because Teheran sees that Israel is taking the matter very seriously. He said that the Iranians have not yet responded to the appointment, or the news that it was inevitable.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, continued with his strident remarks as the UN Security Council prepared to consider a draft resolution imposing limited sanctions on Iran because of its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
Iran's nuclear capability has increased "10-fold"despite Western pressure to roll back the country's nuclear program, he said Monday.
"The enemies, resorting to propaganda, want to block us from achieving (nuclear technology)," Ahmadinejad told a crowd on the southern outskirts of Tehran. "But they should know that today, the capability of our nation has multiplied 10-fold over the same period last year."
Ahmadinejad boasted that "the power of our enemies is less than one-tenth of their power in last year."
On Friday at a Jerusalem Day rally in Teheran, Ahmadinejad said Israel no longer had any reason to exist and would soon disappear
Haviv Rettig and AP contributed to this report.