Contextual Content

Will next Israeli leader attack Iran?

The decision by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down amid corruption allegations has left many questions in Israel and in the region. There are two main contenders to replace Olmert as leader of the Kadima party.
The front-runner Tzipi Livni, is a former Mossad operative and current foreign minister. She was a protégé of Ariel Sharon in the Likud and jumped with him to Kadima when it was formed.
Her main Kadima rival is Shaul Mofaz, a hawkish former general and current transportation minister. The Iranian born Mofaz is famous for his ruthless crushing of the Palestinian uprising in Jenin and other West Bank towns in 2000, first as military chief of staff and later defense minister.
Livni is favoured in opinion polls by 8 to 18 percent to win the Kadima leadership.
Calls have come from Israeli opposition leader Benyamin Netanyahu of Likud for a general election. The elections would probably come in February or March, which would see Olmert remain prime minister till then.
Netanyahu was prime minister from 1996 to 1999, a hardliner who does not believe in land for peace, He is in favour of more west bank settlements and calls Israel’s recent meetings with Syria “groveling”.
Ehud Barak, leader of the Israeli Labour Party, part of the ruling coalition with Kadima, will also be in the running. Barak is a former General and was Prime Minister from 1999-2001. As the current defence minister Barak said that Israel will return to its pattern of air stikes to crush in Gaza despite the month long truce.
A recent poll by Israel’s Channel 10 shows Netanyahu as the most preferred leader with 36 per cent, Tzipi Livni with 24.6, Ehud Barak with 11.9 and none of the above with 19 percent. When Livni was replaced in the poll, by her Kadima rival Shaul Mofaz, Netanyahu garnered 36.6, Barak 14.4, Mofaz 12 and None of the above 27.4.

What this could mean for the stalled peace process with the Palestinians will depend mostly on the next US president whether Barack Obama or John McCain.
But on the question of Iran, there is still the fear that Israel might act unilaterally.

Recent comments from the 4 possible future Israeli prime ministers might seem to reinforce what investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker last month, that an attack on Iran could come before the end of US President George W. Bush’s term next January.

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Story Transcript

CARLO BASILONE (VOICEOVER): The decision by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down amid corruption allegations has left many questions in Israel and in the region. There are two main contenders to replace Olmert as leader of the Kadima party. The frontrunner, Tzipi Livni, is a former Mossad operative and current foreign minister. She was a protégé of Ariel Sharon in the Likud and jumped with him to Kadima when it was formed. Her main Kadima rival is Shaul Mofaz, a hawkish former general and current transportation minister. The Iranian-born Mofaz is famous for his ruthless crushing of the Palestinian uprising in Jenin and other West Bank towns in 2000. Livni is favored in opinion polls by 8 to 18 points to win the Kadima leadership. Calls have come from Israeli opposition leader Benyamin Netanyahu of Likud for a general election. The elections would probably come in February or March, which would see Olmert remain prime minister till then. Netanyahu was prime minister from 1996 to 1999. A hardliner who does not believe in land for peace, he is in favor of more West Bank settlements and calls Israel’s recent meetings with Syria “groveling." Ehud Barak, leader of the Israeli Labor Party, part of the ruling coalition with Kadima, will also be in the running. Barak is a former general and was prime minister from 1999 to 2001. As the current defense minister, Barak said that Israel will return to its pattern of air strikes to crush Hamas in Gaza despite the month-long truce. A recent poll by Israel’s Channel 10 shows Netanyahu as the most preferred leader with 36 percent, Tzipi Livni with 24.6, Ehud Barak with 11.9, and none of the above with 19 percent. Surveys by Israel’s three major newspapers show that Likud would win an early parliamentary election over Kadima. Yedioth Ahronoth give Netanyahu’s Likud 30 seats out of 120, compared to 29 for Livni’s Kadima. Haaretz had Netanyahu with 25 and Livni slightly ahead with 26 seats. And daily Maariv put Netanyahu clearly ahead, showing that if elections were to be held today, Likud would get 33 seats, and Livni, at the head of Kadima, taking only 20 seats. What this could mean for the stalled peace process with the Palestinians will depend mostly on the next US president, whether Barack Obama or John McCain. But on the question of Iran, there is still the fear that Israel might act unilaterally, though many analysts say an attack on Iran could push oil prices to $300 a barrel or more, and IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has said that an attack on Iran would turn the region into a fireball. US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, in a pointed rebuke of Israeli hawks, has also warned against military action.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: —from the United States’ perspective, the United States military perspective in particular, that opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us.

Recent comments from the four possible future Israeli prime ministers might seem to reinforce what investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker last month, that an attack on Iran could come before the end of US President George W. Bush’s term next January. Netanyahu ominously told CNN last year, "It’s 1938, and Iran is Germany." Labor leader Ehud Barack in Washington last week insisted that pressure on Iran must be maintained.

EHUD BARAK, DEFENSE MINISTER: The time is [inaudible] for accelerating a sanctions regime, but that ultimately no option could be removed from the table.

BASILONE: Tzipi Livni, speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Sunday, also talked about maintaining a hard line with Iran.

TZIPI LIVNI, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER AND ACTING PRIME MINISTER: We need to understand that we need to act today in terms of sanctions. Sanctions can be effective as long as the Iranians and the entire world understand that all the options are on the table. This is what we need to do today. We cannot postpone it. We cannot wait for the Iranians to decide whether they are willing to talk with international community. And the message coming from the Iranian is clear. Sanctions are needed today.

BASILONE: And Shaul Mofaz, who some call more hawkish than Netanyahu, spoke at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy last week.

SHAUL MOFAZ, MINISTER OF TRANSPORTATION AND DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Iran is continuing to advance toward a military-nuclear capability, and it’s heading towards a major breakthrough. Our estimation is that already by ’09 Iran will reach enrichment capability, and as soon as 2010 will have the option to reach [inaudible] military [inaudible].

BASILONE: These claims by Israeli politicians about Iran’s desire for nuclear weapons come in spite of the fact that the US national intelligence report last November stated that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The UN’s IAEA inspectors have found no evidence of a continuation of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. A report in Haaretz from October 26, 2007, states that Tzipi Livni, in a series of closed discussions, that in her opinion nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel. Unlike Iran, Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Most experts estimate that Israel has between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons, and former president Jimmy Carter said in May 2008 that Israel has 150 or more nuclear warheads.

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