In Iran's Ambition, Israel's Dark Cloud

By Nora Boustany
Wednesday, May 24, 2006

D avid Landau , editor in chief of the Israeli daily Haaretz, said Monday that Israel hoped to link its need for a stronger defense against the Iranian nuclear threat to its stated willingness to pull out of more occupied Palestinian land.

The agenda of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert 's official visit this week was dominated by Iran and the controversy over its nuclear potential, Landau told Washington Post columnists and reporters. Israel has its own nuclear arsenal, which it does not openly acknowledge.

Iran's nuclear ambition "is hanging over this visit like a black cloud," he said. But he added, "Maybe this black cloud could have a silver lining."

The silver lining would be a package linking Iran's nuclear threat and Israel's defense needs to the sea change in Israelis' attitudes toward occupation, which could spell further unilateral withdrawals from Palestinian lands after last year's pullout from the Gaza Strip.

Unlike his predecessor, Ariel Sharon , Olmert will not be able to "soft-pedal the Iranian issue," given the anxiety over the rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in recent months, said Landau, who arrived Sunday evening from Israel.

Landau was one of 50 journalists accompanying Olmert to Washington on a three-day visit.

"Israel cannot countenance a nuclear Iran. It crosses . . . even the dovish fringe of the Israeli spectrum," Landau added.

Having no military credentials, Olmert would be politically vulnerable if he told his countrymen the Iranian issue should remain on the back burner, he said.

Landau suggested that President Bush 's own declining political stock at home would make him more receptive to Olmert. "Maybe the depth of his unpopularity will be a spur for him to listen," he said of Bush.

"Support for Israeli deterrence against the Iranian nuclear threat can be put in the context of getting out at long, long last from Palestinian land, which could be defined as a key American interest."

He said bringing Israel under America's nuclear defense umbrella, with early warning systems and diplomatic and economic pressure, was necessary in a situation in which "a balance of terror" alone was insufficient, "because Israel is so small and close to Iran."

Thinking the unthinkable scenario of Israel being attacked with a nuclear weapon is cause for many sleepless nights for someone like Olmert, he said. Putting himself in Olmert's shoes, Landau said he would "want to be able to deter Iran so it knows, if Iranians tried" the nuclear option, "they would live to regret it."

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