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(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel's policy of saying little about the situation in Iran melted away Sunday, with President Shimon Peres indelicately saying the leadership must go, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu carefully applauding the protesters - and not second-guessing US policy - after being pressed on the issue in an NBC television interview.
Netanyahu, asked on NBC's Meet the Press about what Israeli intelligence had to say about the Islamic regime's weakness, responded that its "real nature has been unmasked, and it's been unmasked by incredible acts of courage by Iran citizens.
"They go into the streets, they face bullets and, I tell you, as somebody who believes deeply in democracy, that you see the Iranian lack of democracy at work, and I think this better explains and best explains to the entire world what this regime is truly about," the prime minister said.
Netanyahu and his ministers have been very hesitant to say anything about the situation, concerned that any comment made by Israeli officials would be manipulated by the Iranian regime to "prove" that the "Zionists and the Americans" were behind the current upheaval.
The cabinet ministers have been asked to keep their statements on the issue to a bare minimum.
However, pressed Sunday by NBC's David Gregory, the prime minister said "something very deep, very fundamental, is going on, and there is an expression of a deep desire amid the people of Iran for freedom."
He was careful not to be dragged into the domestic American debate about what US President Barack Obama's should or should not be saying about the issue.
"I'm not going to second-guess the president of the United States," Netanyahu said. "I know President Obama wants the people of Iran to be free.
"He said as much in his seminal speech in Cairo before the Muslim world [on June 4]. I have spoken to him a number of times on the subject. There is no question we would all like to see a different Iran with different policies."
By contrast, senior Israeli diplomatic officials took Peres to task on Sunday for speaking out on the issue without prior coordination.
Peres, who has a weakness for the pithy, catchy phrase, said in reference to Iran at the Jewish Agency board of governors meeting in Jerusalem, "I really don't know what will disappear first, their enriched uranium, or their poor government. Hopefully, the poor government will disappear.
"Let the young people raise their voice of freedom for a positive policy. Let the Iranian women, who are a very courageous group of people, voice their thirst for equality, for freedom," the president said.
The diplomatic official said Israel was worried that comments such as these would be "manipulated" by the authorities in Teheran and used against the protesters.
The official said that Israel backed Obama's policy of saying little on the matter, so that the regime could not use his words as "proof" that the revolt was an American concoction.
"The protesters don't need support from Obama right now; there is nothing he can do for them," the official said.
Netanyahu said that while Israel wanted regime change, like most of the rest of the world, what was even more important was stopping the Islamic republic's nuclear march.
Asked on NBC what affect the ongoing events on the ground were having on the nature of the treat from Iran, the prime minister said a "policy change" inside Iran regarding the nuclear issue, and not only a regime change, would be a "game changer."
While it was too early to say what would happen inside Iran, "I think something fundamental is taking place here," he said.
Netanyahu said that if the objective before the protests had been to keep Teheran from obtaining nuclear arms, "well, it's doubly [true] right now."
Asked, as always, whether Israel would consider acting militarily to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, he said, "I think stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability is not merely an interest of Israel. As I think the current events now demonstrate, this is something of deep interest for all people who want peace and seek peace throughout the world."
In light of Jewish history, he said, Israel obviously "always reserves the right to defend itself."
The question that now faces the entire world, Netanyahu said, was whether it could "allow this brutal regime that sees no inhibitions in how it treats its own citizens and its purported enemies abroad" to acquire nuclear weapons.
"And the answer that we hear, from far and wide, is no," he said.