On Tuesday, the Financial Times of London reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said a recent meeting of his Kadima Party:  "[P]lease, we need to stop instilling fear of an existential threat just to grab more headlines . . . There is no need to make the threat worse than it is."[1]  --  "A political analyst familiar with the Iran issue said Mr. Olmert’s reported remarks might reflect his concern that Israel should not be pushed into the frontline of the dispute," Harvey Morris said.  --  "Some of the most hawkish statements have come from within Mr. Olmert’s coalition cabinet, notably from Ephraim Sneh, deputy defense minister, who has raised the possibility of military action as a last resort to prevent Iran obtaining a bomb."  --  What Sneh said, in remarks published on Nov. 10, 2006, in the Jerusalem Post, was that "I consider it a last resort.  But even the last resort is sometimes the only resort." ...


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In depth

Arab-Israeli conflict

OLMERT SEEKS TO COOL RHETORIC ON IRAN
By Harvey Morris

Financial Times (UK)
January 16, 2007

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/6e49ed0c-a57b-11db-a4e0-0000779e2340.html

JERUSALEM -- Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, has appealed to fellow politicians to cool their rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and stop instilling in the public a fear that they threaten Israel’s existence.

His remarks at a meeting of his Kadima party, quoted in Israeli media Tuesday, followed a build-up of increasingly strident comments by politicians and others about the threat posed by Iran’s alleged intention to produce a nuclear bomb.

Mr. Olmert said the Iranian nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes, was worrying.

However, according to the mass-circulation *Yedioth Ahronoth*, he also told Kadima parliamentarians: “I believe that the world and us know how to deal with the present threat, but, please, we need to stop instilling fear of an existential threat just to grab more headlines . . . There is no need to make the threat worse than it is.”

In the face of mounting speculation that Israel might be prepared to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities unilaterally, the Olmert government insists it supports international efforts to find a diplomatic solution.

During a visit to China last week, Mr. Olmert welcomed Beijing’s support for diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from producing a nuclear bomb.

A political analyst familiar with the Iran issue said Mr. Olmert’s reported remarks might reflect his concern that Israel should not be pushed into the frontline of the dispute.

Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan that also feel threatened by Iran are meanwhile demanding progress on the Palestinian issue at a time when Washington is seeking their co-operation on Iraq and Tehran’s alleged interference there.

While Mr. Olmert has in the past described Iran as a threat to Israel’s existence, other politicians have been more forthright in suggesting that the time for military action was approaching.

Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition leader and Mr. Olmert’s long-standing political rival, this month accused the government of showing weakness and fatigue in the face of Israel’s enemies and said: “Iran can still be stopped.”

Some of the most hawkish statements have come from within Mr. Olmert’s coalition cabinet, notably from Ephraim Sneh, deputy defence minister, who has raised the possibility of military action as a last resort to prevent Iran obtaining a bomb.

• The Syrian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday denied a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the two countries had engaged in secret negotiations, writes Ferry Biedermann in Beirut. An unnamed official said that the report was “baseless and unfounded.”

A foreign ministry adviser added that Syria was interested in “official, open talks and not in secret or back-channel negotiations.” He also noted that the government was unwilling to give up any of its “cards” ahead of formal negotiations.

He was referring to the insistence by Israel and the U.S. that Syria cut its ties with militant Palestinian movements such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as insurgents in Iraq and rein in the Lebanese Hezbollah movement. The United States in particular, “is not ready to deal,” he said. The advisor said that once formal negotiations begin, they can be concluded in a matter of months, even weeks. “At least 85 per cent of a future deal is already known.”