Israel: Bush means business on Iran nukes
Israel is fully satisfied with the results of the visit of George W. Bush, including policy on Iran's nuclear program, senior officials in Jerusalem said yesterday.
"In talks with the president of the United States during his visit it was made clear that Bush's statements on the subject of Iran's nuclear program are fully backed in practice," a senior official said.
The president's attitude on Iran was well known in Israel, and the expectation had been that he would use forceful language against Tehran, both during talks with Israeli officials and in his address to the Knesset, not only on the nuclear question but on Iran's role in the region.
During meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, more data was presented to back the desire for a reassessment of an American intelligence report which concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program.
One Israeli source said that it is hoped that the new information would influence the administration's stance on Iran's nuclear program.
The source said that Olmert will discuss the subject during his visit to Washington in two weeks.
President Bush addressed the Knesset yesterday, promising unflinching U.S. support. "Citizens of Israel, Masada shall never fall again, and America will always stand with you," he said. Bush added that calls for negotiations with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are akin to the efforts to appease Hitler before World War II.
The president opened his speech by saying in Hebrew: "Happy Independence Day." His address focused on the alliance between the U.S. and Israel.
"Israel's population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because America stands with you," Bush said.
"You have raised a modern society in the Promised Land, a light unto the nations that preserves the legacy of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And you have built a mighty democracy that will endure forever and can always count on America to stand at its side."
He noted that Israel's Declaration of Independence "was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham, Moses, and David - a homeland for the chosen people in Eretz Yisrael."
The president also presented his vision of Israel in the next 60 years. "Israel will be celebrating its 120th anniversary as one of the world's great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people."
His address was interrupted no less than 14 times by loud applause.
"America stands with you in breaking up terrorist networks and denying the extremists sanctuary. And America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," the president said.
Bush accused Ahmadinejad of seeking to return the Middle East to the Middle Ages by calling for the destruction of Israel.
"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," he said. "We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
After the speech made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the Knesset in March, it was hard to expect a more pro-Zionist speech. But as a former Knesset speaker, MK Reuven Rivlin, put it yesterday, "I wish our leaders would make speeches like this." Rivlin described Bush as "manifesting the Zionist vision."
Contrary to the applause Bush received for his address, the speech by Prime Minister Olmert was less popular and stirred considerable controversy.
Olmert promised that when there is a peace agreement it "will be approved by a large majority in the Knesset and it will be supported by the vast majority of the Israeli public."
Two MKs from the National Union, Zvi Hendel and Uri Ariel, left the plenum in protest, complaining that the event was "used to promote a political agenda that is opposed by most of the Israeli public."
Hendel issued a statement calling on Olmert "to learn from the president of the United States what Zionism is."
MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) called out during Olmert's speech, "in your dreams."
He later proposed that Bush should replace Olmert.
Throughout the exchanges amount the rival Israeli politicians, President Bush appeared to be enjoying himself. When Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik finished her speech, he offered his hand in a "give me five" kind of move.
Olmert diverged from his speech and said that "we will bring before the Knesset an agreement that is based on the vision of two states for two peoples. This agreement will be approved by a large majority in the Knesset and the entire nation."
On Iran, Olmert said that "the seriousness of the threat demands that no means be discounted." However, he made it clear that "a uniform international political and economic front against Iran is currently in place, and tougher and more effective sanctions are a necessary stage, even if it is not the final stage, on the right way to block the Iranian threat."