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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: 'Israel Will Not Acquiesce In Iran's Acquiring Nuclear Weapons'

Likud Opposition Backs Government's Position Against Iran Going Nuclear

Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations On Core Issues Now Threatening Olmert's Coalition

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has declared that Israel will not acquiesce in Iran developing nuclear weapons. Briefing the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee, the Israeli leader repeated the long-standing position of the Jewish which Iranian President Mahmoud Achmadinejad threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Likud MK Silvan Shalom, a former foriegn minister, agreed that Israel must also consider the military option in confronting an Iranian nuclear threat but he was also convinced that stiffer sanctions could dissuade the Iranians as they had Libya and North Korea. Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Zippi Livni with Palestinian representative Ahmed Queira met in Jerusalem to start discussing the 'core issues' such as borders, security, Jerusalem, the refugees etc. But this could trigger the breakup of the current governmnent coalition.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Israeli Prime minister Ehud Olmert declared that Israel 'will not acquiesce in Iran getting the bomb' and he added that 'all options are on the table'. In so doing Olmert made clear that Israel is giving no credence to the recent American intelligence estimate that concluded that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 because it had halted one of its components - a weaponization unit. Officially Jerusalem has not criticized the N.E.I; however Israeli experts have rediculed the U.S. assessment that acknowledged the Iranians were still enriching weapons grade uranium as well as producing rockets capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. The issue was high on the agenda during the recent visit of U.S. President George W. Bush - committee members said Olmert gave the impression that Bush was also genuinely concerned about Iran going nuclear. In Israel, support runs across the board for the position expressed by the Prime Minister who stressed that Israel is not 'spearheading' the sanctions campaign to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. But obviously 'all options' includes a military operation - on this score Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that 'the less said the better!'

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni

On the Palestinian track, negotiations began today on the nitty-gritty of the confict. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni and Palestinian representative Ahmed Queira began discussing the 'core issues' - borders, security, Jerusalem and the refugees. Olmert said that while everything will be discussed, nothing will be implemented until arrangements are in place for Israel's future security. This also implies the Palestinian adherence to dismantling the terrorists as stipulated in the Roadmap peace plan. The PM also made clear that Gaza, now ruled by Hamas, must be part of the deal - there would be no separate agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the West Bank. This is a tall order keeping in mind that Hamas vows to destroy Israel. In any case, Olmert appeared to tell the committee the core-issues negotiation was the only game in town and he added: 'It's not clear if Abbas can make a deal stick anyway'.

The PM said a war was being waged with Hamas controlled Gaza. In his view, Israel was getting the upper hand. The IDF and Shabak Security Service were conducting smart and effective operations that were hitting more and more terrorists. He warmed against getting entangled in a war in side the Gaza Strip to suppress the daily rocketing of Sderot and other Israeli communities.

With the Winograd final report due on January 30th, Olmert is obviously trying to fend off a new wave of criticism by endearing himself to the Israeli center and left by moving full steam ahead in peace talks with the Palestinians. This to entice the Labor party to remain in his coaltion - party leader leader Barak said he will decide after reading Winnograd. However, Avigdor Lieberman on the far right will announce on January 16th whether he will make good on his pledge to bolt the coaltion if Olmert agrees to engage in talks on the core issues.

David Essing

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