Friday, 8 December 2006

Gates slip on nukes irks Israel

Friday 8 December


JERUSALEM - Israel already has a beef with America's soon-to-be defense secretary - the guy can't keep a secret.

Robert Gates, at his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, became the first U.S. official to confirm that Israel has nuclear weapons.

Though the world has long suspected Israel has nukes, Gates officially let the news slip when he speculated on why Iran might be seeking the means to build an atomic bomb.

"They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons: Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west and us in the Persian Gulf," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said Gates went too far. Israel's nuclear deterrent capability was more effective if it remained unclear whether it had such weapons at its disposal, he said.

Yuval Shteinitz, a former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, described Gates' comments as "worrisome."

"The claim that Iran is developing nuclear weapons for defense and deterrence purposes is not compatible with Iran's declaration about wiping Israel off the map," Shteinitz said.

Also yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he did not expect President Bush to accept the James Baker-Lee Hamilton committee's recommendation to reopen ties with Syria.

Speaking to Israeli newspaper editors in Tel Aviv, Olmert said conditions were not yet ripe for peace talks with Syria and that Damascus would first have to end its backing of terrorist groups.

"In my view, Syria's subversive operations, its support for Hamas - which may be what's preventing real negotiations with the Palestinians - do not give much hope for negotiations with Syria anytime soon," he said.

Olmert told his audience that he rejected the basic formula of the report, which linked the success of future U.S. policy in Iraq to a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The attempt to create linkage between the Iraqi issue and the Mideast issue - we have a different view," Olmert said. "To the best of my knowledge, President Bush, throughout the recent years, also had a different view on this."

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