BERLIN - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stumbled into controversy during
a visit to Germany on Monday, implying for the first time Israel had nuclear
Olmert is on a three-day trip to Germany and Italy where aides said he would
press Europe to take stronger measures to stop what Israel fears are efforts by
Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
Tehran says its nuclear programme is designed solely to generate electricity.
Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal,
although officials have refused to confirm or deny that in the past.
Olmert appeared to be the first to say otherwise, when in an interview
broadcast on German television as he arrived in Berlin for talks with Chancellor
Angela Merkel, he was asked if Israel's alleged atomic effort weakened the case
against Iran's nuclear programme.
"Iran, openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map.
Can you say that this is the same level, when they are aspiring to have nuclear
weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?," Olmert replied.
Israeli officials swiftly denied Olmert had overridden Israel's traditional
"strategic ambiguity" about a nuclear programme.
Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, said he did not mean to say that Israel had
or aspired to acquire atomic weapons.
The subject of Israel's nuclear capability was raised last week by incoming
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who suggested at a Senate confirmation hearing
that Israel had atomic weapons.
Gates said Iran might want an atomic bomb because it is "surrounded by powers
with nuclear weapons: Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the
Israelis to the west and us in the Persian Gulf."
Olmert told Germany's Spiegel magazine at the weekend that he expected "more
dramatic steps" from Europe to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear potential.
He said "I rule nothing out" when asked if he could rule out an Israeli
military strike against Tehran.
In his television interview, Olmert summoned bitter memories of the World War
Two killings of six million Jews by the Nazis that dog Israeli ties with
Germany, to press his case for Germany to step up measures against Iran's
The Holocaust carried out by the Nazis "can't be forgiven and forgotten,"
He said Germany "may have economic interests (with Iran), but you have much
deeper and more fundamental moral obligations to yourselves, your past and your
"And no one will be able to avoid it, and get away with it. No-one. Certainly
not the German people."
Germany, with France and Britain, is a member of the so-called EU3 group that
acted on behalf of the European Union and negotiated a suspension of Iran's
nuclear enrichment in 2003, but that deal broke down in August 2005.
Olmert's visit to Germany, and planned talks in Italy with Prime Minister
Romano Prodi on Wednesday, took place as the EU was planning a new drive to
revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Merkel, who will meet Olmert on Tuesday, has announced plans for a new Middle
East peace effort when Germany takes over the rotating presidency of the bloc
from Finland in January.
She said on Sunday that positive signals coming from Israel should be used to
make progress toward securing peace.