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(photo credit: AP [file])
US President George W. Bush will stop the Iranians from getting a nuclear bomb, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated with certainty during an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Olmert's comments come amid a debate raging in Jerusalem about whether the US will eventually take military action to stop the Iranian march to nuclear capability, whether Israel might have to act on its own, and whether Jerusalem should reconcile itself to a nuclear Iran.
Asked whether he felt that Bush would, one way or another, stop Iran from going nuclear, Olmert replied succinctly, "I believe so."
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Olmert said Bush was very determined on this issue. "First of all I think President Bush has the courage," he said during the interview in his Jerusalem office. "This is something that is very important. There is no one in the world today who has greater courage and determination, and a sense of mission about these issues, than President Bush, and I admire his determination and sense of mission."
Olmert's assessment is at odds with those inside the intelligence community who argue that the US president is too over-extended in Iraq and Afghanistan, and too politically weak at home, to take military action against Teheran.
As to whether Israel had a military option of its own regarding Iran, Olmert said, "Israel can't accept the possibility of Iranians having nuclear weapons and we will act together with the international forces, starting with America, in order to prevent it. And as I also said, I believe that President Bush is absolutely determined to prevent it, and America has the capabilities to actually prevent it."
Olmert, in the interview that will be published in its entirety in Friday's edition of the Post, said he did not feel Israel should begin getting used to the notion of living with a nuclear Iran.
"I don't think Israel can be reconciled [to this]," he said. "I don't intend to. This is a danger that is just one thing we can't afford."
Earlier this month, Vice Premier Shimon Peres said that if Iran were to develop a nuclear capability, Israel and the West would develop the means to deal with it. This was the first public indication from a cabinet minister that Jerusalem has been thinking about how to deal with a nuclear-armed Iran.
During the interview, Olmert also waged a spirited defense of the war in Lebanon, saying that even though Israel had no answer to the short-range missiles that rained down on the North, Israel's strategic deterrence was not harmed.
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"Everyone understands that this is something that has to be dealt with," Olmert said of the short-range Katyushas and Kassam rocket threats.
"It will be dealt with, we will find a technological answer, and once a technological answer is found we will be done with it. So it is just a matter of time. It is true that in the meantime it is a major nuisance, but it is not a strategic threat to the State of Israel."
He said it was a mistake to focus on the short-range missile threat, and that the IAF's ability to take out the long-range missiles, which it did in the first few hours of the war, was of greater significance "in terms of the degree of threat that the Arabs feel they can impose on Israel."
Regarding the widespread perception in the Arab world that Hizbullah won the war, Olmert said he had "a different perception of what their view is of Israel, based on knowledge from what I read and see."
He said that the perception that Hizbullah emerged with a victory was "one of the most dangerous perceptions," but that it was generated "entirely, completely, wholeheartedly here, not there, only because of political considerations, only because of a total lack of proportion. These perceptions are created here and they are spread from here to the outside."
As to the abducted soldiers, Olmert would not discuss whether he would be willing to release Fatah-Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti in a deal to free Cpl. Gilad Shalit, but said that Barghouti was not one of the prisoners he had considered releasing before Shalit's abduction.
Olmert also would not say categorically that he would not release Samir Kuntar in a deal involving Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Kuntar, the longest-serving confirmed Lebanese prisoner in jail in Israel, is serving multiple life terms for the killing of three members of the Haran family and policeman Eliahu Shahar in a raid on Nahariya in 1979.