Former Israeli Premier Olmert Cautions Against Iran Strike

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said now isn’t a good time to strike Iran and that quiet diplomacy may be effective, adding to domestic criticism of the way the government is handling the Iranian threat.

“There is enough time to try different avenues of pressure to change the balance of power with Iran without the need for a direct military confrontation with Iran and now is not the right time,” Olmert said at a conference hosted by The Jerusalem Post in New York yesterday. His comments were published today in the English-language newspaper.

Olmert’s remarks followed those of Yuval Diskin, former chief of Israel’s Shin-Bet internal security service, who said on April 27 that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have exaggerated the country’s ability to halt Iran’s nuclear program using military means. Israel’s Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said in an interview published on April 25 that he doesn’t believe Iran would build an atomic bomb.

Netanyahu has expressed skepticism that international sanctions will stop Iran from enriching uranium. He has warned that the Islamic Republic’s leaders want to build nuclear weapons and has said that Israel has taken no option off the table in dealing with Iran. President Barack Obama has said diplomacy must be given more time to work before military options are exercised.

“Iranian deception concerning their nuclear program is ongoing and well documented, yet parts of the world, including politically motivated Israeli figures prefer to bury their heads in the sand,” Barak said today at a press conference in Jerusalem.

Nuclear Program

“I’m not certain that when we speak loudly it is more helpful than when we speak privately and quietly with the leadership of those countries,” Olmert said.

Olmert, a former Netanyahu ally, split from the Likud party and helped found Kadima in 2006, which now serves as the prime minister’s main opposition. Kadima is headed by former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

The U.S. and European Union have imposed financial sanctions on Iran and are pressuring nations including China to buy less of its oil as they seek to curtail its nuclear activities.

Iran says its nuclear program is to produce electricity and is solely for peaceful purposes. Tensions over the Iranian nuclear program helped drive Brent crude prices to about $125 a barrel last month, the highest in more than 3 1/2 years. Prices fell more than 2 percent on the next trading day after Iran and the world powers broke a 15-month stalemate on the nuclear conflict during talks April 14 in Istanbul. Negotiations are set to resume May 23 in Baghdad.

Coalition Dispute

“Sanctions that are stronger than ever have forced the Iranians to take note, sit down and talk,” Barak said. “However, this doesn’t fill me with confidence.”

The criticism of Netanyahu comes amid talk of early elections in Israel. Netanyahu said yesterday he may call an vote because of disagreements with coalition parties over military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs. Opposition leaders have vowed to introduce a no-confidence motion to parliament next week. The governing coalition is in its third year and elections are scheduled for 2013.

‘More Sensitive’

Attacks on Netanyahu are “accumulating and because of talk of elections, everyone is more sensitive,” Uri Dromi, government spokesman in the 1990s under the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, said in a telephone interview. “People like Diskin are sincere in their concern and have no political considerations, but there is the spin that is definitely the product of people who are now looking to elections and using this against Netanyahu or are up in arms to defend him.”

Gabi Ashkenazi, Gantz’s predecessor as chief of staff, who retired last year, told the conference in New York yesterday that “we still have time.”

“It is better to persuade our friends in the world that it is a global threat,” Ashkenazi said, adding that Netanyahu’s government has done a “good job” emphasizing the danger.

To contact the reporters on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at gackerman@bloomberg.net; Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at jferziger@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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