VIDEO - After US secretary of defense, it was Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's turn to break Israel's nuclear ambiguousness.
In an interview with German TV station N24, Sat1, broadcast Monday ahead of his first visit to Germany as prime minister, Olmert said that "Israel is a democracy and does not threaten anyone. The only thing we have tried to do is to live without terror, but we have never threatened anyone with annihilation. Iran explicitly, openly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map."
"Can you see that is the same level when you are aspiring to have a nuclear weapon as America, France, Israel and Russia?" he asked.
Olmert lands in Germany (Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom, GPO)
Officials at the Prime Minister's Office later attempted to minimize the damage and rejected the claim that Olmert violated the ambiguousness policy by admitting that Israel possesses nuclear weapons.
They clarified that OImert only referred to the fundamental issue and said that by no means whatsoever did he intend to talk about the existence of absence of nuclear weapons.
In the interview, Olmert also called on Germany to cut its vast economic ties with Iran, saying Berlin’s obligations toward Israel were greater because of its Nazi past.
He said Germany must not use business as a pretext for a relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has described the Holocaust as a “myth” and called for Israel to be wiped off the map.
The broadcast also coincided with a widely criticized conference in Tehran attended by prominent Holocaust deniers from around the world.
“May I suggest to the German people, don’t ever again use this argument when it comes to the life of the Jewish people. You may have an economic interest, you may have a business interest, but you have deeper and more fundamental moral obligation to yourself, to your history and to your future,” he told German TV.
“This is a responsibility of the highest order.” Since World War II, Germany has paid billions of dollars in reparations to Israel and victims of the Holocaust, and relations between the countries are strong.
Israel has welcomed Germany’s efforts to help curb Iran’s nuclear program. Israel believes Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies.
'Israel doesn’t threaten any country with anything'
When asked about the bomb, Olmert cut the interviewer off, saying, “I’m certain you can go to the secretary of defense of America and talk to him about that.”
Israel is widely believed to possess several hundred nuclear warheads, but it has consistently stuck to a policy of ambiguity, insisting it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.
Olmert reacted angrily when asked if Israel’s alleged nuclear program weakened the Western case against Iran, saying no such comparisons should be made.
“Israel is a democracy, Israel doesn’t threaten any country with anything, never did. The most that we tried to get for ourselves is to try to live without terror but we never threaten another nation with annihilation.
"Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map,” he said.
He also noted that the US, Russia, France and Great Britain possess nuclear weapons, but there was no equating them with a country like Iran.
“You are talking about civilized countries that do not threaten the foundations of the world that do not threaten other countries that they will use the nuclear weapons in order to destroy them. That is why there is a big difference,” he said.
In the wide-ranging interview, Olmert said he would consider an offer to dispatch German troops to the Gaza Strip as part of an international peacekeeping force, but said the proposal must be clarified and understood before Israel gave its final go-ahead.
“Do you want German soldiers to be killed in Gaza because of terror? Do the Italians want their soldiers to be killed in terrorist actions in Gaza?” he asked. “I don’t say no to anything that advances peace but I don’t hasten to say yes to something that is not understood and which may prove to be very, very damaging to the countries involved.”
Livni: Holocaust cannot be erased
Speaking at the Knesset Monday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni referred to the Holocaust denial conference in Tehran: "No one can erase the horror, the evil, the piles of hair, the mass graves, the numbers on people's arms, the humiliation and the experiments on humans – no one can erase all this.
"The gas chambers stand as silent proof of the horrors. Everyone who arrives sees the fingernail scratches on the concrete, scratches of people who only had those fingernails to scratch the concrete – scratched which are engraved in our hearts and souls.
"I am not here to prove that the Holocaust existed here in Israel, but rather to take advantage of the stage I have been given, here in Israel's Knesset, in order to call on the entire world to understand that what is happening in Tehran is not only Israel and the Jewish world's problem, but rather the problem of anyone who supports the values of the free world.
"The memory of the Holocaust is crucial for the entire international community, and not only for Israel and the Jewish people. By denying the Holocaust, Iran's president is seeking to create legitimacy for his declared intentions to annihilate Israel and spread his radical doctrine which contradicts the values of the free world," Livni said.
Ronny Sofer contributed to this report