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Israel backs away from Iran statement

Oil prices jumped surrounding the comment
June 8, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert distanced himself on Sunday from a Cabinet minister's suggestion that Israel will be forced to attack Iran. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz set off an international uproar over the weekend by saying in a published interview that Israel will have "no choice" but to attack Iran if it doesn't halt its nuclear program. Mofaz is a former military chief and defense minister, and has been Israel's representative in a strategic dialogue on Iran with U.S. officials. Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, did not explicitly reject Mofaz's comments. But he said Olmert clearly stated Israel's policy last week during a trip to Washington. Speaking to reporters after a White House meeting, Olmert called for tighter international sanctions, including boycotting Iranian businessmen and financial transactions and blocking the country's imports of refined petroleum. He also warned that a more "effective" solution was drawing closer, but would not elaborate. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and designed to produce energy, but Israel believes the country's fundamentalist regime seeks nuclear weapons. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has repeatedly said Israel should be "wiped off the map." In an interview published Friday in the local daily Yediot Ahronot, Mofaz said "If Iran continues its nuclear arms program - we will attack it." "The sanctions aren't effective. There will be no choice but to attack Iran to halt the Iranian nuclear program," he said. There is a precedent for Israeli military action: In 1981, Israeli planes destroyed an unfinished Iraqi reactor. A spokeswoman for Mofaz, Talya Somech, confirmed Sunday that the quote was accurate. She said Mofaz was expressing "his own opinion" and not that of the government. But other Cabinet ministers accused Mofaz of speaking irresponsibly and suggested he was trying to sound tough for reasons connected with internal politics. Mofaz sees himself as a candidate to replace Olmert, who is embroiled in a corruption scandal that might force him to step down, and is engaged in a rivalry for the job with Israel's popular foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. "The cynical use of Israel's strategic matters for party politics is beyond the pale and very serious," Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said in a statement. Vilnai said it would be wise to remain silent and "leave matters of security to those taking care of them." On Friday, oil prices made their biggest single-day jump ever, and traders cited Mofaz's comment - which hinted at the possibility of instability and a disruption of global oil supplies - as one of the reasons for the spike.

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