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Israel is hopeful that the threat of the Iranian nuclear program can be resolved without military involvement, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Wednesday night.
"I'm hopeful that this effort can be successful without a military operation," Olmert told a gathering of the UJA Federation of New York, which was celebrating its 90th anniversary. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threat to destroy Israel is not, however "something that can be tolerated," he said.
Continuing to impose sanctions on Iran is crucial to stopping their nuclear weapons program, stressed Olmert. President George W. Bush is on the "right path," he said, and has made "enormous efforts" to stop Iran.
"When I hear the president, I understand his level of commitment," said Olmert, "in the meantime Israel will dedicate itself to other peace initiatives." Olmert did not name the Arab Peace Initiative or the Saudi Plan by name, but said that Israel was ready to discuss peace with the Arab League with no preconditions.
"This is a rare occasion, where so many Muslim countries have gathered together to talk not about ways of destroying the state of Israel, but ways to discuss the state of Israel," Olmert said. "I am willing to sit and discuss with them the peace initiatives. I will not accept everything, don't worry. But I don't reject anything from the outset, and I won't set preconditions."
Olmert also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian Peace process, describing the Palestinians as "not the most credible partners" but the "only choice Israel has." "The [Palestinians] are not always very loyal in their commitments, to put it in a soft way. They promised many things. We signed a ceasefire agreement with them, yet there was not one day without fire coming from their side," said Olmert.
On Tuesday, Hamas marked Israel's Independence Day by firing a round of rockets from the Gaza Strip, once again breaking the five-month cease-fire. Following a meeting with top military commanders and security advisers on Wednesday, Olmert authorized limited operations in Gaza, but decided against the large-scale offensive that several right-wing political and military officials had called for.
Olmert suggested that his reluctance to order a military response was due to the Palestinians' "weakness." "We have restrained our action time and time again. Why? Because I am fully aware of their weakness and I ask myself: Do I have among the Palestinians a better potential partner than Abu Mazen? Do I want to lose the last link to someone who can be of consequence in the future? We have to live with these contradictions," said Olmert.
Reminding the group that Israel just celebrated its 59th anniversary, Olmert recounted some of the difficulties of the past year, including the Second Lebanon War.
Israel has been used to wars finishing with a "knock out ending," he said, "but when we said in the beginning of the war, that we would create a new situation so that we would no longer bear a daily threat of Hizbullah in the northern part of the country, we carried it out."
"However," he continued, "we still didn't recover the two Israeli soldiers who were abducted and we are working every single day and we will not hesitate to make every possible effort to recover our boys and bring them back."
Olmert was in a boisterous mood during the speech, often joking with the UJA representatives despite reports that surfaced just prior to his speech that State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has recommended that police investigate the prime minister on suspicion of illegally arranging investment opportunities for friends while in a previous cabinet post.
Olmert has enjoyed a long relationship with the UJA, speaking to them when he was a freshman MK more than 20 years ago. Over the past ten years, the organization has donated approximately $1 billion to Israel.