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Prime Minister's Passover

Prime Minister Olmert: 'Iran Will Not Have a Nuclear Capability'

President Peres: 'Paralysis Of International Community In Acting Against Iran Reminds Me Of Failure To Act Against Nazism Before Holocaust'

Opposition Leader Netanyahu Has Failed To Persuade Olmert's Coalition Partners That Time Is Ripe To Dump The Prime Minister

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

On this Passover holiday, Israelis may be relaxing to celebrate the Exodus of their forefathers from bondage in Egypt to freedom in their ancient homeland. But not so the Israeli security forces which are poised to cope with a number of clear and present dangers both at home and abroad. Against this backdrop, IsraCast assesses comments by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on some of the key threats facing the Jewish state at this juncture.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: 'I want to tell the citizens of Israel: Iran will not have a nuclear capability. The international community is making an enormous effort - in which we have a part, but which is being led by the international community - so that Iran will not attain non-conventional capability. I believe, and I also know, that the bottom line of these efforts is that Iran will not be nuclear'. That was without question Olmert's most dramatic statement in his Passover interview with the Haaretz newspaper. Having survived his disastrous conduct of the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006, the Prime Minister spoke confidently about containing the relentless Iranian threats to wipe Israel off the map while it pursues its nuclear weapons program.

President Shimon Peres (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Attending a Holocaust ceremony in Warsaw, President Shimon Peres saw the situation from a different vantage point. Peres spoke of the world's paralysis in confronting Iran and radical Islam. It reminded him of a similar paralysis toward Nazism prior to the Holocaust. In his view: 'It was more a result of the terrible weakness of those opposing the Nazis rather than the power of Nazism itself''. Although advising against going hysterical, it was absolutely out of the question to think that things would work out by themselves.

After three Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza this week, the newspaper Israel Hayom asked Peres if Israelis despaired on this Passover?

Peres: 'The war with the Palestinians is not simple. If only those who advise sending the IDF back into Gaza were right. But we were in Gaza before and that didn't stop the terrorism. On the other hand, I think the terrorists are getting worn out and that's why they're seeking a cease-fire. We have to deal with the Gaza problem with a lot of brains. The Palestinians must be made to understand that terrorism has a price but we must not be drawn into inflicting collective punishment on the Palestinian people. Look at the degree of brutality the Russians inflicted on Chechnya - that's not an option for us. I don't think there is despair - a huge percentage of Israelis are certain about the country's future. Israel had to fight seven wars without losing one. The economic situation is great and look at the new Israeli talents emerging every day'.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Israel launched a number of counter-strikes into Gaza after the deaths of the three IDF soldiers killing over twenty Palestinians. The terrorists then stepped up their rocket barrage, launching over thirty Qassam rockets at Israeli towns and villages across the border on one day alone. Defense Minister Ehud Barak who has been running the counter-terror campaign summed up the the ongoing confrontation: ' We are aware of the Palestinians' suffering in Gaza - but the suffering of the Israeli civilians being rocketed from Gaza is more important. IDF soldiers, like the three killed, were standing in the line of fire, so that Israeli civilians could celebrate the Passover holiday. In war there must be no shooting from the hip - it was necessary to act responsibly and try to lessen the suffering of all concerned. But also in moments of sorrow it was necessary to act decisively and with sound judgment'.

Under fire for not halting the Qassam rocketing of Sderot, Barak replied: 'In the same way we solved the rocketing of Israeli civilians in Galilee, we will also find a solution to the Qassams launched from Gaza. Although there is no quick fix that will happen tomorrow or the day after. But we will find the solution'.

After the Annapolis conference last November and at the urging of U.S. President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are now discussing a document for a two state solution. Olmert was upbeat saying: 'Not in the coming weeks, but still I hope that we will succeed in reaching understandings in 2008'.
The Prime Minister conveyed the impression that no great gaps existed between him and Abbas on most of the core issues, ' with the exception of Jerusalem which has been deferred to a later stage '.

With Bush due in Israel in less than a month for the 60th Independence Day celebrations, Olmert and Abbas from the West Bank can be expected to keep pushing ahead in their contacts behind closed doors. This while the Israel and the Hamas regime in Gaza trade blow for bloody blow. How does Prime Minister Olmert explain his ability to survive the public perception that he failed abysmally in his conduct of the Second Lebanon War? He replied: 'In the past year and nine months, since the end of hostilities, things have been done that proved that I have the strength, the determination and also the ability to improve and advance matters in all spheres, security and national alike.'

Opposition Leader Benyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

At present, opinion polls show Opposition leader Bibi Netanyahu is still leading the pack although he has slipped a little in the popularity race for PM. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Labor's Ehud Barak also lead Olmert who has been picking up some popularity points lately. As Shimon Peres points out the Israeli economy has been purring along with unemployment hitting a fifteen year low of 6.5% and the Israeli shekel has gained against the U.S. dollar. But not only the economy, although Ehud Barak is not that popular for prime minister, most Israelis sleep better at night knowing he is defense minister.

Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi are given high marks for coping with defense issues backing up the PM with expertise and experience that was so lacking in the Second Lebanon War. Tzipi Livni is also viewed as a credible foreign minister and Olmert's gung - ho approach for negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas has led to a bevy of international leaders not only praising Israel for a change, but also visiting the Jewish state in person. So what of those secretive discussions with Abbas who most Israelis view as an impotent and virtual reality leader? First of all, most Israelis do not really believe Abbas can make any deal stick even if he and Olmert can cut a deal. And not only the man or woman in the street - take the Shas coalition partner which is dependent on right wing religious voters but nevertheless is still solidly in the Olmert coalition. And even in Olmert's own Kadima party some key members, such as former defense minister Shaul Mofaz, are closer to the Likud's basic positions than they are to Olmert who has outflanked Labor's Barak on the left.

The coalition partners do not feel the time is ripe to topple Olmert and go to an early election that the Likud's Bibi Netanyahu would likely win. But that's only one part of the equation. The other is this - although Netanyahu is leading in the polls he has failed to generate a big enough groundswell in public opinion to induce Olmert's Kadima colleagues or coalition partners to decide the time is ripe to dump the Prime Minister. It is in the nature of an Israeli coalition government, for the partners to jump ship sometime before that four year election date comes up, but for the being the Prime Minister can expect to celebrate this Passover period with his coalition as stable as ever. But with Israel on alert for attacks from Gaza, a possible Hezbollah terror strike at home or abroad and the looming Iranian nuclear threat the entire situation could shift suddenly at any time.

David Essing

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