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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unwittingly turned a difficult trick Sunday, uniting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Likud arch-rival Binyamin Netanyahu and getting them to agree to convene a forum of former prime ministers to deal with the Iranian threat.
Netanyahu and Olmert met Sunday prior to the weekly cabinet meeting for the periodic prime ministerial-opposition leader meeting mandated by law, and emerged from it saying that they had both come to the meeting with the same idea - to convene the former prime ministers to discuss sensitive security issues, like Iran.
Three of the five living former prime ministers - Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres - are expected to take part in the informal forum along with Olmert, while 90-year-old Yitzhak Shamir is unlikely to participate and Ariel Sharon remains in a comatose state.
Netanyahu said that each of the previous prime ministers had dealt with the Iranian issue from different angles, and integrating their experiences could help Olmert deal with the threat. This was an issue, he said, that transcended political considerations.
Olmert, meanwhile, said in a CNN interview that aired Sunday that Iran was just a few months away from acquiring the technological know-how that would allow it to build a nuclear bomb.
During the interview, timed to coincide with Olmert's visit to Washington, the prime minister reiterated Israel's position that the point of no return regarding Iran would be when they had the knowledge necessary to build a nuclear weapon, not when they actually built it.
"This technological threshold is nearer than we anticipated before. This is because they are already engaged very seriously in enrichment," Olmert said. "The technological threshold is very close. It can be measured in months rather than years."
While Israel maintains that regarding Iran the key date is when they get the know-how to build a bomb, the American position has consistently been that the point of no return is when a bomb is actually built.
The Iranian issue is expected to be one of the major focuses of the talks Olmert is scheduled to have with US President George W. Bush on Tuesday. Olmert left Sunday afternoon for his first visit as prime minister to the US, and is scheduled to return on Thursday. The other major focus of his talks is expected to be his "convergence" plan in the West Bank.
Another issue expected to figure prominently is the situation in the Palestinian Authority, and what can be done to stave off a humanitarian crisis there.
To this end, the cabinet approved at its weekly meeting Sunday the transfer of NIS 50 million worth of medicine and medical equipment to Palestinian medical organizations through international aid organizations. Money for the medicine and equipment is to be taken from the tax and customs revenues Israel collects monthly on behalf of the PA, which it stopped handing over in March following Hamas's takeover of the PA.
Olmert told the cabinet that "Israel feels bound above and beyond its formal obligations to see to humanitarian concerns, and to the health of those who are ill anywhere. We cannot, under any circumstances, bear the thought of a sick child without medical assistance solely because of a shortage of drugs, and this has nothing to do with any kind of formal obligation. This is a moral and fundamentally Jewish concern that we want to uphold."
Olmert said Israel had no intention of aiding the Palestinian government, and would not transfer "as much as a penny to any Palestinian official, but I say we will render such assistance as may be necessary for humanitarian needs. This is, has been, and will be, the way of the State of Israel."
Defense Minister Amir Peretz briefed the cabinet on the security situation, saying that last week there was an increase in Kassam and GRAD rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. He also said that there had been an increase in tensions between Fatah and Hamas loyalists, but that Israel would not intervene in the brewing Palestinian domestic turmoil even while it was on high alert to stop any terror attacks.
The cabinet also discussed the issue of human trafficking and established a permanent directors-general committee to oversee the government's handling of this issue. According to the cabinet communiqu issued after the meeting, "Israel will do its utmost, and will use all means at its disposal, in the struggle against human trafficking."
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