Asked by the interviewer about Iran’s calls for the destruction of Israel, Olmert replied that Israel had never threatened to annihilate anyone.
“Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map,” Olmert said. “Can you say that this is the same level, when you are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?”
Granted that everybody more or less knows that Israel maintains a nuclear arsenal. On one level you could argue that Olmert’s slip changes little. But on the rhetorical level there are several very important reasons why Israel has made some effort to keep its arsenal under wraps. First, a frank admission turns around the domestic calculus for regional competitors like Iranian president Ahmadinejad. Iranians have mostly balanced a feeling of national pride with legitimate concerns about provoking the international community, leaving Ahmadinejad with a mixed mandate at best. I expect that this news will change that.
Second, even UN bashers
will should acknowledge (this is a debatable point?) that Bush needed UN Resolution 1441 before he could move against Iraq. The Iran debate will also play out first and most importantly in the UN Security Council. Thanks to the wreck our president has made of America’s credibility our brief is weaker than it should be – keep in mind that Iran denies a nuclear program and we have no credible evidence suggesting they have one. None of us want Iran to go nuclear, but absent international action there isn’t much of anything that we can do about it. Even if we had the resources to knock out Iran’s facilities we don’t know where most of them are*.
If strong international action is needed to get inspectors into Iran, and I think it is, an expanded nuclear map in the mideast is not something that will help us. Olmert’s slip seems like an opening for Iran to declare that she will gladly admit nuclear inspectors, as long as Israel does the same.
(*) Presupposing that Iran’s bomb program exists, which, again, it might not.