(photo credit: AP [file])
Continuing a theme he began in Moscow last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert talked tough on Iran Monday, saying that Israel would "prepare for a struggle meant to prevent" Iran from getting nonconventional weapons capabilities.
Olmert's words came as diplomats and Iran experts are divided on the impact the appointment of Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman as minister for strategic affairs regarding Iran would have on the issue.
Referring to the world's failure to take Hitler's threats to exterminate the Jews seriously, Olmert told business leaders in Tel Aviv, "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 matters," he said. Olmert said the "enlightened world" could not continue to "live with a situation" where the leader of one country says it will wipe another country off the map.
Olmert said Israel would work with all its "strength" to mobilize the entire world to take steps to stop Iran from acquiring 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 moved sharply away from Israel's public diplomacy policy of not making overheated comments about Teheran and stressing that a nuclear Iran is the world's problem, not just Israel's.
When Olmert was in Moscow, he told reporters that Iran would only change its polices if it believed it would have to "pay a price" and face unwanted consequences for continuing with its nuclear program.
Not everyone is comfortable with the change. Silence over Iran, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Monday at the same Tel Aviv conference, was a critical pillar of Israel's strategy. This quiet "has brought the world to the realization that the Iranian threat is a threat to the entire free world," he said.
In an apparent reference to the appointment of Lieberman, Peretz said, "I'm opposed to the politicization of the Iranian threat."
Uzi Arad, director of the Institute of Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, told The Jerusalem Post that it was important that a single minister coordinate policy on Iran, but that he felt that minister should be the prime minister.
Arad, who was Binyamin Netanyahu's foreign policy adviser when the latter was prime minister, said that just as managing relations with the US and the Palestinians was kept in the prime minister's hands, so too should policy toward Iran "in all its details" be under Olmert's control.
"If indeed the Iranian issue is the most profoundly threatening strategic issue for Israel, it is the prime minister who should be in charge of this," he said.
A diplomatic official dealing with Iran also said it was a good idea for one minister to coordinate the work of the various bodies involved, and to take a "broad view of the Iranian issue."
The bodies dealing with the issue, which often pull in different directions, include 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," the official said. "Someone needs to see the big picture."
The official said that the handling of the war in Lebanon indicated just how badly Israel needed one person to coordinate and plan regarding the Iranian issue.
As to what signal the expected Lieberman appointment sends to the Iranians, Menashe Amir, Israel Radio's Iranian expert, said Lieberman was largely unknown in Teheran, although he was considered "intransigent."
"This is another straw on the camel's back," Amir said, one more bit of pressure that Israel, along with much of the world, was applying on Teheran.
Amir said this strengthened Israel's deterrence because Teheran now saw that Israel was taking the matter seriously. He said that the Iran had not yet responded to the expected appointment.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, continued with his strident remarks as the UN Security Council prepared to consider a draft resolution that would impose limited sanctions on Iran because of its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
Iran's nuclear capability has increased "10-fold" despite Western pressure, 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 Teheran. "But they should know that today, the capability of our nation has multiplied 10-fold over the same period last year."
Ahmadinejad said, "The power of our enemies is less than one-tenth of their power last year."
On Friday, Ahmadinejad told an Al-Quds Day rally in Teheran that Israel no longer had any reason to exist and would soon disappear.
Haviv Rettig and AP contributed to this report.