Israeli officials at N.Y. confab spar over Iran attack


NEW YORK (JTA) — Current and former Israeli officials at a conference in New York sparred over criticism of the Israeli government and its threats of attacking Iran.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at Sunday’s Jerusalem Post Conference that Israel must initiate peace talks with the Palestinians and that the current government is “making excuses” to avoid negotiating with the Palestinian Authority.

Speaking on a panel on Israeli security , Olmert said that peace is “in Israel’s interests.”

“We have to help create the best possibility to advance the chances to achieve peace,” Olmert said. “We have to be the initiators and not look for excuses to justify the lack of action by the State of Israel. “Present the challenge to the other side, and let them say no.”

Panelists also sparred over public criticism of the Israeli administration’s threats to attack Iran’s suspected nuclear program. Meir Dagan, a former Mossad chief who has publicly criticized the Israeli administration’s Iran threats, praised another vocal critic of the government.

Dagan called Yuval Diskin, a former head of the Israeli Shin Bet security agency who slammed the idea of an Iran attack, a “very serious man and a very capable man. He spoke on the issues he really believes.”

But Gilad Erdan, Israel’s environmental protection minister from the Likud Party, said that former officials such as Dagan and Diskin were hurting Israel’s security. Erdan referred to an amendment proposed in the Knesset last year, dubbed the “Dagan law,” that would restrict public comments by former security officials.

“I prefer that heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet will not do damage to our efforts. Netanyahu is doing a lot of efforts to raise awareness, and you go out and say you should be doing this or that,” he said in explaining the necessity of such a law.

During speeches earlier in the conference, Olmert and Gabi Ashkenazi, the former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, said Israel should wait before launching an attack on Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

"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,” Olmert said.

Ashkenazi said that Israeli forces “still have time” before needing to launch an attack, the Post reported. He added that “it is better to persuade our friends in the world and the region that [Iran] is a global threat.”

But Ashkenazi also called for tough sanctions on Iran and said that “Israel needs its own capability.”

"We need crippling sanctions and much more severe sanctions,” he said. “It might now be too late … It needs to be supported by a credible military threat on the table."

Dagan, who last year called attacking Iran “the stupidest thing I have ever heard,” cautioned at the conference that Iran’s developing nuclear weapons “will lead to an arms race, not only in the Middle East but in the world." He said that such a bomb would constitute a "serious threat to the region” and “a serious threat to the economy.”

And at a later panel, Isi Liebler, the former head of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, admonished Olmert for publicly criticizing the current government.

“A former prime minister of Israel took everything in the book to criticize the present government,” he said. “There’s a lot we have to learn about a certain amount of restraint and dignity."

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