Brown: UK to lead fight against nuclear Iran

In Knesset address, British PM says: "For the whole of my life, I have counted myself as a friend of Israel."

Brown knesset speaks 224 (photo credit: AP)
Brown knesset speaks 224
(photo credit: AP)
Tough talk on Iran topped the program when Gordon Brown on Monday became the first British prime minister to address the Knesset since Israel was founded 60 years ago. "To those who question Israel's very right to exist, and threaten the lives of its citizens through terror we say: The people of Israel have a right to live here, to live freely and to live in security," he said. "And to those who believe that threatening statements fall upon indifferent ears, we say with one voice: It is totally abhorrent for the president of Iran to call for Israel to be wiped from the map of the world. "Our country will continue to lead, with the United States and our European partners, in our determination to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program." "Iran has a clear choice to make: suspend its nuclear weapons program and accept our offer of negotiations or face growing isolation and the collective response, not just of one nation, but of all nations aground the world," Brown added, emphasizing that the UK would be ready and willing to impose further sanctions against Teheran should the need arise. "As someone who studied history and knows well the history of the Jewish people in the last century," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in his welcoming speech to Brown, "I don't need to explain to you our sensitivity toward threats of extermination when, God forbid, they are backed up by the ability for mass extermination. "From our perspective, this in an unbearable situation. But the threat is not only on Israel, but on all of the moderate regimes in the Arab and Islamic worlds and beyond the Middle East. This is a global threat, and the response to it must to be along a united and determined international front - and most importantly immediate, because we must not miss the deadline." Brown - and Olmert, as well as opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who spoke before him - recalled his upbringing in a staunchly pro-Israel home, where his father would visit Israel twice a year. As a minister and the head of the Church of Scotland's committee to maintain ties with Israel, Brown's father learned Hebrew, was a fervent supporter of Israel in the state's turbulent early days and, in Brown's words, "had a deep and lifelong affection for Israel." "For the whole of my life I have counted myself as a friend of Israel," he said, pledging to bring his own young children on a visit in their grandfather's footsteps. But Brown offered not only words of support, but also a bit of advice to the country as to how he thought Israel should come to an agreement with its neighbors. He told the Knesset that a "hard-won and lasting peace" between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is "within your grasp." Arguing that "it is vital also that both sides now create the conditions for a final agreement," Brown pushed a two-state plan including Jerusalem as a shared capital, calling on Israel to freeze building in settlements and eventually withdrawing altogether from much of the West Bank. It was at that point that Brown was met with the lone interruption to his speech, when NU-NRP faction chairman Uri Ariel called out and then left the plenum in protest. "The British Mandate has been over for a long time," said Ariel. "Britain, which has historical and ethical responsibility for many of the conflicts in our region, should refrain from proposals whose implication is the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes, and the awarding of a territorial base to extreme Islamic terrorism." In a rare appearance hours later at the Kadima faction meeting, Olmert offered his own spin on Brown's comments. "I can say with satisfaction that Brown is one of Israel's best friends in the Western world," he said. "He did say some things that don't fit with the views of some of the Knesset. There's a feeling among some that anyone who's a friend of Israel has to agree with the Right... but that's not correct." "His connection to Israel is emotional. He described how his father would tell him stories about his trips to Israel twice a year," Olmert added. "It shows he has a special connection to Israel. The relationship with him is wonderful, including on sensitive issues. The views he expressed on those issues and his willingness to help is impressive and emotional." Brown also met Monday with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and discussed Iran, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian track with them. Barak, according to his office, told Brown it was necessary to tighten sanctions against Iran. He also warned that the military balance in southern Lebanon was being tipped by arms smuggling from Syria, in defiance of UN Resolution 1701, which called for an end to arms transfers from Syria to Hizbullah. Livni, meanwhile, brought up the issue of arrest warrants issued in Britain against senior IDF officers. Israel has been pressing the British government for months to enact legislation that would remove the threat of Israeli officers being indicted while visiting England. Three years ago, former OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog was almost arrested in England for alleged war crimes, and only avoided arrest at Heathrow Airport when he was warned not to disembark from his El Al flight since British detectives were waiting to take him into custody. The warrant for his arrest was issued at the request of a pro-Palestinian Muslim group. It alleged that Almog ordered the demolition of 59 Palestinian homes in Rafah in 2002. Last month The Jerusalem Post reported that the IDF had resumed sending senior officers to England for military studies and that currently two colonels were studying in England, and another was scheduled to join them in August. Gil Hoffman, AP and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.