Text size

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, who is contending for Kadima's leadership, said Wednesday that Israel must not attack Iran, but only defend itself if attacked.

"Israel must on no account attack Iran, speak of attacking Iran or even think about it," Sheetrit said. "Israel must defend itself only if attacked by Iran, but attacking Iran on our own initiative is a megalomaniacal reckless idea."

Sheetrit kicked off his campaign for Kadima's primary on Tuesday by blasting his main rivals, whom he accused of inexperience.

"We are not permitted to gamble away Israel's future and Kadima's future. People with insufficient experience jump into senior positions without taking the long, hard route of accumulating experience and knowhow," Sheetrit said at a news conference in Holon.

Sheetrit will square off against front-runner Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz, and Avi Dichter for the Kadima leadership.

"The prime minister does not have to be a general," Sheetrit said. He was also asked about the clash between Livni and Labor Party chief Ehud Barak, who have been arguing over who is most qualified to answer the phone at 3 A.M. in an emergency situation.

Sheetrit said that if he is prime minister "the phone won't ring at 3 A.M. because there will be no reason for it. There are no urgent matters, only neglected matters. If there will be some sensitive matter, I'll be awake anyway."

The interior minister added that a prime minister is preoccupied with security matters "when security is the most important, but it's certainly not the whole picture."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has reportedly said in private conversations that Sheetrit is his preferred choice to lead Kadima and the government, a leak that angered the four candidates' campaign staffs.

The news also embarrassed Olmert's people, who hastened to calm down Transportation Minister Mofaz's people and tell them that Olmert had no intention of intervening in the primary.

Sources close to the prime minister said that Olmert saw in Sheetrit political experience and professionalism stemming from the latter's days as mayor and as a minister in a number of different capacities. The sources said Olmert also appreciates Sheetrit's opinions and political leanings.

Olmert's media adviser issued a statement saying that Olmert has not expressed support in any candidate and does not intend to do so.

However, several political figures who have spoken to Olmert recently said he had told them that of the four candidates, Sheetrit is the most suitable and qualified to take his place.

He said that Sheetrit, who currently holds the bottom spot in election polls, has held more senior portfolios and has more experience both in local and national government.