(photo credit: AP [file])
"I'm asking the ministers to stop giving statements on Iran and the American intelligence report," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting.
"May I remind you that the cabinet held a discussion on the subject and agreed on Israel's position. There is no place for private comments by every single minister on such a sensitive and complex issue," Olmert said.
"Such statements do not contribute to the campaign [against Iran] or to our relations with the White House," he added.
Olmert's remarks came in response to Public Security Minister Avi Dichter's recent attack on the latest US intelligence assessment.
Olmert joined other government officials who had earlier responded to Dichter's statements, with one senior source telling Army Radio that the minister's words could cause serious damage to Israeli-American relations.
"The US stands by our side in the campaign against a nuclear Iran, and President [George W.] Bush has pledged to preserve Israel's security. We must not offend our closest ally," the source said.
Cabinet minister Ami Ayalon said Dichter made an error in publicly censuring the White House.
"Such haughty statements damage our ability to build a coalition [against Iran]," he said.
But while Dichter was the only minister to publicly voice criticism, Army Radio reported that his opinion was shared by many cabinet ministers, quite a few of whom had made anonymous statements on the subject.
Dichter on Saturday blasted the recent US National Intelligence Estimate that says Teheran had halted its nuclear arms program, warning that a nuclear Iran could lead to a regional war that would threaten Israel.
Dichter also suggested that if American intelligence agencies were wrong about Iran in the NIE, released on December 3, they could also issue false information about whether the Palestinians are fulfilling their security commitments.
He cautioned that a refusal to recognize Iran's intentions to build weapons of mass destruction could lead to a regional war like the Yom Kippur War, in which Israel was caught off-guard by Egypt and Syria.
"The American misconception concerning Iran's nuclear weapons may lead to a regional Yom Kippur, in which Israel will be among the countries that are threatened," said Dichter, speaking at a "Cultural Shabbat" talk in Bat Yam.
"The softened intelligence report proves that Israel failed to provide the Americans with the whole picture concerning the Iranian nuclear threat," he said.
"Something went wrong in the American blueprint for analyzing the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat," said Dichter, in one of the strongest criticisms of the US intelligence analysis offered by a cabinet member.
In comparison, Olmert had merely responded to the report by arguing that Iran was still a threat and that Israel was still convinced of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nuclear aspirations. Israel is not the only country analysts consider threatened by Iranian nuclearization; some Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, are also viewed as potential Iranian targets.
AP contributed to this report.
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