SPIEGEL Interview with Ehud Olmert: Israel Doesn't Rule out Military Strike on Iran
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, 61, discusses his peace offer to the Palestinians, the threat of civil war in Lebanon and Washington's shifting strategy in the Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: "Any compromise that will lead to Iran being unable to create nuclear weapons is a step in the right direction."
Olmert: I do not expect a change of American policy towards Israel. The right way to advance our relations with the Arabs is by means of bilateral negotiations. The Iraq issue is a domestic subject of the United States. However, we always felt that the removal of Saddam Hussein was a major contribution to stability of our part of the world.
SPIEGEL: One of the recommendations made by the Baker Commission is to offer Syria the Golan Heights in exchange for a constructive role in the Middle East. Is this in Israel's interest?
Olmert: The question of what we will give to the Syrians interests me less than the question of what they will offer us.
SPIEGEL: Washington is also thinking about direct talks with Iran and Syria. Do you support this new approach?
Olmert: In my view, Syria's subversive operations -- its support for Hamas or Hezbollah, for example -- do not give much hope for negotiations with Syria any time soon. I do not know what the American president will decide to do with the report. I can only say that, in our talks, he did not favor American-Syrian or Israeli-Syrian negotiations. I count on his judgment and responsibility.
SPIEGEL: And what do you think about direct talks with Iran?
Olmert: Any compromise that will lead to Iran being unable to create nuclear weapons is a step in the right direction. As long as the final result of talks with Iran is an end to their nuclear program, I am not against them.
SPIEGEL: But are you dissatisfied with the delays by the international community in taking action against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
Olmert: I am not happy at all with the pace. I expect more dramatic steps to be taken. Here is a leader who openly says that his goal is to wipe Israel off the map. Israel is a member state of the United Nations. For someone in the year 2006 to be able to say that publicly is absolutely outrageous.
SPIEGEL: Do you rule out a military strike?
Olmert: I am talking about effective measures that will be accepted by the international community to stop the Iranian danger.
SPIEGEL: So you don't rule out a military strike.
Olmert: I don't rule out anything.
SPIEGEL: Your neighbor to the north, Lebanon, is on the verge of a new civil war. Are you concerned about the images of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's beleaguered office in Beirut?
Olmert: Of course I am not particularly happy with these pictures. It is important that democracy in Lebanon is protected and that Hezbollah will not be supported by outside forces like Syria and Iran. But I must weigh my words carefully, because if it appears that the Israelis are defending Siniora, it will not help him in Lebanon. I would have loved to meet with Siniora for peace negotiations. There isn't much that separates us. In one meeting we could agree on everything.
SPIEGEL: When Hezbollah kidnapped the two Israeli soldiers in July -- a declaration of war from the Israeli point of view -- you also publicly blamed the Siniora government. Do you regret today that you did not do more to stabilize him?
Olmert: There was nothing that could help Siniora more than the weakening of Hezbollah. The present turmoil in Lebanon is not the result of the strengthening of Hezbollah. Hezbollah suffered a major loss as a result of the war and is today fighting for its political survival. We tried a great deal to defeat the forces that are threatening Siniora.
SPIEGEL: But you did not defeat them. On July 18, six days after the start of the war you said: "Only the return of the abducted soldiers will stop the operation." The war stopped long ago but the two kidnapped soldiers are still being held. What went wrong?
Olmert on the appropriate response to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's calls to wipe Israel off the map: "I don't rule out anything."
SPIEGEL: How optimistic are you that you can reach some sort of deal with Hezbollah to get the soldiers back?
Olmert: I am not happy with the reaction of Hezbollah. They are trying to use the same old techniques: They want everything in advance before they let us know the status of the soldiers.
SPIEGEL: What concessions are you ready to make in order to get the soldiers back?
Olmert: Reasonable concessions. This regards the release of prisoners, but I will not go into any details.
SPIEGEL: Brigadier General Doron Almog, who has been investigating the failures leading up to the kidnapping of the soldiers, says the Israeli army is experiencing a leadership crisis. Do you agree?
Olmert: This is an exaggeration. In Israel we tend to be carried away by our emotions. Yes, there were certain failures but I guarantee you that in every single military confrontation between our fighters and those of Hezbollah we always had the upper hand. I have ways of assessing what the Hezbollah leaders think: They know that they suffered terrible damage to their strategic power, which they have been trying to build over the last six years.
A bombed-out building in Beirut on Aug. 13: "We always had the upper hand."
SPIEGEL: But what about the civilian victims. Are they attributable to the failures of Israel's army?
Olmert: What do you mean by civilian victims? How do you know that all of the victims were not members of Hezbollah?
SPIEGEL: There were women and children.
Olmert: I didnt say that there was not a single civilian killed. But I think the majority of them belonged to Hezbollah.
- Part 1: Israel Doesn't Rule out Military Strike on Iran
- Part 2: Is UNIFIL useless?
© DER SPIEGEL 50/2006
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH