(photo credit: AP [file])
Former President Jimmy Carter said that he does not think Iran poses an immediate threat to Israel, despite claims by Iranian officials that they have drawn up bombing plans if the Jewish state should attack.
Speaking on Wednesday at Emory University, Carter, who brokered the 1979 Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt, said Israel's superior military power and distance from Iran likely are enough to discourage an actual attack.
"Iran is quite distant from Israel," said Carter, 83. "I think it would be almost inconceivable that Iran would commit suicide by launching one or two missiles of any kind against the nation of Israel."
Iran's deputy air force commander said Wednesday that Israel is within range of Iran's medium-range missiles and bombers and that Teheran would strike back if Israel "makes a silly mistake."
The White House said the comments almost sound geared toward provoking a fight and Israeli officials said they take the threats seriously.
Responding to a question from an Emory student during a public forum, Carter did not dismiss the desire of the Iranian government to attack Israel, noting a nuclear program Iran's leaders claim is to fuel nuclear reactors, not make weapons.
"Obviously, we all hope we can do whatever we can to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power," Carter said.
Carter said unease between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is a far greater threat to the nation's security than Iran. He criticized President George W. Bush's administration for not doing enough to broker peace in the region.
"Since President Clinton made his heroic effort at Camp David, there hasn't been a single day of peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis," he said.
Carter spoke roughly a year after he completed his book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid".
Jewish groups and other critics condemned Carter for comparing Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories to the oppression under South Africa's apartheid regime.
Carter said he chose the title to be provocative, not inflammatory, and that he hoped to encourage debate over Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
In a new 'afterword' to editions of the book released this month, Carter criticizes the lack of "balanced debate" in the US about the Middle East and warns officials against being "seen as knee-jerk supporters of every action and policy" of Israel's government.
The Emory event was Carter's 26th annual town hall meeting at the Atlanta university, where he holds the title of distinguished professor and lectures about once a month.