JERUSALEM, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Israel's acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Tuesday indicated Israel would not let Iran have a nuclear weapon.
In his first press conference since he replaced Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who underwent brain surgery and is still unconscious, Olmert did not mention Iran by name nor talk explicitly of Teheran's nuclear program.
However, the context was clear. Replying to a question about Iran he said: "In no situation and at no stage could the State of Israel allow someone who has such malicious intentions towards us have control over a destructive weapon that could threaten our existence.
"Israel cannot put up with a situation in which there is a threat against us," he stressed.
Iran has been hostile towards Israel ever since the Islamic revolution toppled the shah who maintained close ties with the Jewish state. However the threats against Israel became more explicit since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumed the presidency. Ahmadinejad said Israel should be " wiped off the map."
The Israeli military's Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Dani Halutz, who spoke at Haifa University Tuesday, urged Israelis to take such Iranian talk seriously.
The prospect that someone whose ideology calls for wiping Israel off the map "would have the capability to do so" should trouble us, he said.
" I recommend the people of Israel not say that he (Ahmadinejad) is crazy ...not serious, not worthy of any comment. No, we have to treat him with full seriousness," Halutz said.
Jerusalem has maintained that Iran's nuclear program is an international problem, not just Israel's. Officials noted that Iran was developing missiles that could reach Western Europe. If Iran wanted to threaten Israel only, it did not need missiles with a range than can reach Europe.
With President Moshe Katsav sitting beside him, Olmert said: "The State of Israel cannot put up with a situation in which we are being threatened, just as, I believe, the European states and the United States cannot put up (with it). ... We have been working and shall work in cooperation and in consultation with these international elements.
"I believe there is a way to ensure that non-conventional weapons will not reach irresponsible hands that can threaten world peace," he stressed.
The Israelis have been discussing the Iranian program in their periodical strategic dialogue with the United States, as well as in talks with the European Union countries, India and with Russia that has helped Iran.
The former head of the National Security Council, Maj. Gen. in the reserves Uzi Dayan, Tuesday recalled discussing the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2001. Other officials including Sharon and Katsav have kept brining it up.
The Israelis maintained the danger was not only one in which Iran would possess nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them but also that such weapons could reach terrorist organizations. Other Middle Easters countries would want nuclear weapons once Iran has it, they argued.
Tuesday the incumbent head of Israel's National Security Council, Maj. Gen. in the reserves Giora Eiland and the head of the Atomic Energy Committee Gideon Frank flew to Moscow to discuss the situation.
The trip was arranged two months ago, a senior political source told United Press International. Sharon approved it then and Olmert approved it again, he added.
The issue became more urgent after the Iranians removed seals from three facilities thereby ending a two-year suspension of activities related to uranium enrichment.
U.S. and Western European representatives have called for an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency that who would then refer the issue to the United Nations Security Council. The latter could impose sanctions.
"Now that the international community is energized to deal with the issue, we believe the chance for diplomacy succeeding has improved," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.
"We believe that the organized international community, through the vehicle of the Security Council, should present the regime in Iran with a clear choice: Either they cease totally their military nuclear program or they seriously endanger all their relationships with the community of nations. We believe that such a message could have effective results," Regev added.
Russia and China are holding back and the Israeli team will no doubt try to persuade the Russians to take more decisive action.
Asked what they could achieve in Moscow that the United States and other world powers have not, an Israeli source suggested: "You should see it as (part of the work of) an orchestra."
Olmert seemed to follow Sharon's policy.
On the military side Israel has developed the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system, mainly to defend the country against nuclear attacks.
"Israel is not helpless and it is taking all the necessary steps," Sharon told newspaper editors in Tel Aviv on December 1.
Asked whether the international community had a military option against Iran, Sharon said: "As far as ability and capability - yes, definitely. But I am sure that before anyone goes to such steps there would be an attempt to pressure Iran to stop such activity."
Three days later, Halutz was asked how far Israel would go to stop the Iranian project.
Two thousand kilometers, he said but then added he would not discuss who will do, what, or when.
"Yes, there are options worldwide," he maintained.