LOS ANGELES -- The brother ofnewly-elected Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said here onMonday that Israel "will not allow" Iran to acquire nuclear weaponscapability, and will launch a unilateral military strike if necessaryto destroy Iranian nuclear facilities.
Dr. Josef Olmert, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamirin the early 1990s, told an audience at Sinai Temple in Los Angelesthat "Iran is an existential issue" for Israel, because successiveIranian leaders have openly evoked the possibility of a nuclearexchange with the Jewish state.
Olmert now works with Israel's mission to the United Nations in NewYork and with "The Israel Project," an advocacy group in Washington,DC, but said he was not speaking as an Israeli governmentspokesman.
His brother, who became Prime Minister after elections inMarch, will visit Washington, D.C. next week to meet with PresidentBush. Accompanying him will be Dr. Eli Levita, deputy director ofIsrael's Atomic Energy Commission, who will brief U.S. officials onwhat Israel has learned about Iran's progress toward nuclear weaponscapability.
"Iran will not be allowed to get to the point where they will havethe capability to destroy the state of Israel," Olmert said. "Weshall prevail, and Iran will fail."
He was addressing a forum on Iran organized by Israel ChristianNexus, a group that brings Christian churches and synagogues togetherin support of the state of Israel.
Asked by the audience whether Israel favored regime change inIran, as advocated by many Iranian-American organizations, theyounger Olmert said that "Israel can't wait for the hope of regimechange in Iran. Time is running out."
He noted that the timetable for military strikes must occurwhen Iran develops acquires the capability to make nuclear weapons,long before it acquires the weapons themselves. "People tell me thatthis means months and not years," he added.
Many intelligence agencies, including Israel's, believe it could takeseveral additional years to actually produce an arsenal of weapons.Iran announced it had succeeded in enriching uranium last month, amilestone that Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph has said is the"point of no return" in achieving weapons capability.
Israel needed to make its intentions clear, as a warning toIran but also to its friends in the United States and elsewhere,Olmert said. "We believe the Iranians when they say they want to wipeIsrael off the map. We take them seriously. We monitor theiractivities. We have the ability to monitor their activities."
Israel recently launched a new spy satellite, Eros-B, capableof photograph objects on the ground as small as 70 centimeters,according to Ha'aretz newspaper. Commenting on the April 24 launch,Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that Israel would not "turna blind eye" to the Iranian threat.
Iran has announced it will install 3,000 additional centrifuges inits buried enrichment plant at Natanz by the end of the year. Whilethe satellite can not see what is taking place inside the plant, itcan observe comings and goings, and log how many trucks arrive –key indicators of the type of activity taking place at the plant.
Olmert recalled the warnings issued to incoming President RonaldReagan in January 1981 about the threat Israel saw from SaddamHussein's nuclear weapons program, a time when Olmert was in thegovernment.
After three months, the Israeli warnings ceased and theAmericans "simply assumed" that Israel had changed its assessment ofSaddam's nuclear plans and that the attack was off the table, Olmertsaid
When Israel launched an air strike against Iraq's French-builtnuclear reactor (nick-named "O'Chirac" after then French PrimeMinister Jacques Chirac, who signed the deal with Saddam in 1975),Reagan administration officials professed "shock," even though theyhad been warned repeatedly, he said.
The same could happen today with Iran, he warned.
Israel would much prefer taking part in an internationalcoalition with the United States and Europe to disarm Iran, but wouldstrike alone if that became necessary, he said.
"If a decision has to be made by an Israeli leader, it will becarried out in the right time and it will be successful.
"Take it for granted. We shall not allow this to happen," Olmertadded, referring to a nuclear-armed Iran.
Israeli leaders have escalated the rhetoric about Iran'snuclear weapons program in recent weeks, with former prime ministerand Nobel Peace prize winner Shimon Peres telling the Jerusalem Postthat Israel, too, could "wipe Iran off the map," just as Iran hadthreatened to do to Israel.
On Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said inMalaysia that Israel "one day will vanish," and predicted the samefate would befall America.