Vice Premier Shimon Peres, credited for creating Israel's nuclear program and its policy of nuclear ambiguity, told a reporter in Paris on Tuesday that Israel's nuclear option had achieved its goal of deterring its enemies. Speaking after a meeting with French Socialist Party presidential candidate Segolene Royal, Peres was responding to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's statement on Monday to German television about Iran "working to get nuclear weapons like the US, France, Israel and Russia."
Loose lips and nuclear warships
Peres praised Israel's nuclear program and said that Olmert had not said what was attributed to him.
"We didn't build a nuclear option in order to create a nuclear bomb," Peres said. "The very suspicion that we have one is enough. It's intended for deterrence and it has achieved its goal."
Peres built Israel's nuclear program in the 1950s when he was Defense Ministry director-general. The policy that "Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East" was first wielded by Peres in April 1963 in a meeting at the White House with US president John F. Kennedy.
Peres has been accused of violating the nuclear ambiguity policy in the past, most notably as prime minister in December 1995 when he said, "Give me peace and we will give up the nuclear program," and in September when he said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should "bear in mind that his country could be destroyed, too."
Olmert's statement was criticized across the political spectrum, most notably by his opponents inside Kadima. Coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki said Olmert "made a mistake and needs to be careful. He suggested that Olmert "read from the text" prepared for him instead of ad-libbing in interviews with the foreign press.
Kadima MK Marina Solodkin said she did not believe Olmert had damaged the country with his statement but that he did harm himself. She said she thought Olmert made the statement purposely, to hint to Iran that Israel had nuclear weapons.
"He did damage to himself because he didn't think," Solodkin said. "I have no love for the prime minister but I think he is a master of nuances and hints. He wanted to hint that we have [a nuclear capability]. After 30 years of political experience, it's shocking that he still doesn't know what he gets himself into."
Olmert's rivals said his statement was another of a long list of statements he has ended up regretting. Just last week, Olmert got in trouble on the issue of Israel's kidnapped soldiers in Lebanon for saying, "I hope they are alive," and that a prisoner exchange would merely decide whether the soldiers would "remain in captivity for a bit longer or a bit less."
The prime minister has also been criticized for saying that a prime minister did not need an agenda; urging US President George W. Bush to remain in Iraq; claiming that Kadima had the election won three weeks before it was held; boasting of victory in the war in Lebanon; and suggesting that the war could lead to the implementation of his realignment plan.
"The outcome of the operations in the South and the North will ultimately lay the foundations for movement in the framework of the realignment," Olmert said, in a statement that was widely criticized by soldiers who fought in the war but stood to lose their homes in the event of a West Bank withdrawal.