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Israel's government backs away from minister's bellicose Iran statement

Israel's government backs away from minister's bellicose Iran statement

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday distanced itself from a Cabinet minister's suggestion that Israel will be forced to attack Iran, and an aide to the minister acknowledged that he was expressing a personal opinion, not government policy.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz set off an international uproar over the weekend by saying in a published interview that Israel will have "no choice" but to attack Iran if it doesn't halt its nuclear program. Mofaz is a former military chief and defense minister, and he has been Israel's representative in a "strategic dialogue" on Iran with U.S. officials.
Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, did not explicitly reject Mofaz's comments. But he said Olmert clearly stated Israel's policy last week during a trip to Washington.
Speaking to reporters after a White House meeting, Olmert called for tighter international sanctions, including boycotting Iranian businessmen and financial transactions and blocking the country's imports of refined petroleum. He also warned that a more "effective" solution was drawing closer, but would not elaborate.
"Every day there is another step in the way we are acting, with U.S. leadership, in order to attain this goal of preventing Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons," Olmert said.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and designed to produce energy, but Israel believes the country's fundamentalist regime seeks nuclear weapons. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has repeatedly said Israel should be "wiped off the map."
In an interview published Friday in the local daily Yediot Ahronot, Mofaz said that "If Iran continues its nuclear arms program _ we will attack it."
"The sanctions aren't effective. There will be no choice but to attack Iran to halt the Iranian nuclear program," he said. There is a precedent for Israeli military action: In 1981, Israeli planes destroyed an unfinished Iraqi reactor.
A spokeswoman for Mofaz, Talya Somech, confirmed Sunday that the quote was accurate. She said Mofaz was expressing "his own opinion" and not that of the government.
But other Cabinet ministers accused Mofaz of speaking irresponsibly and suggested he was trying to sound tough for reasons connected with internal politics.
Mofaz sees himself as a candidate to replace Olmert, who is embroiled in a corruption scandal that might force him to step down, and is engaged in a rivalry for the job with Israel's popular foreign minister, Tzipi Livni.
"The cynical use of Israel's strategic matters for party politics is beyond the pale and very serious," Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said in a statement. Vilnai said it would be wise to remain silent and "leave matters of security to those taking care of them."
Rafi Eitan, a former Mossad agent who is now a minister in charge of retiree issues, also chided Mofaz. "In every subject related to war, it's preferable for ministers not to speak unless its been decided on ahead of time in a careful and organized way," he told Israel Radio.
On Friday, oil prices made their biggest single-day jump ever, and traders cited Mofaz's comment _ which hinted at the possibility of instability and a disruption of global oil supplies _ as one of the reasons for the spike.


Updated : 2021-05-08 07:37 GMT+08:00