UPDATED: Using some of his most apocalyptic rhetoric yet, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is vowing that the United States and Israel will soon be "annihilated," even as he refuses to abandon Iran's nuclear program.
Marking the 19th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, Ahmadinejad said: "Today, the time for the fall of the satanic power of the United States has come and the countdown to the annihilation of the emperor of power and wealth has started." He also insisted that "I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene."
In Japan this week, Ahmadinejad explicitly ruled out the notion of Iran halting its uranium enrichment program.....During the same visit, Ahmadinejad urged the Japanese to prepare with Iran for a world without the United States, echoing an address he delivered to the Muslim world back in October 2005....."The US domination is on the fall," Ahmadinejad said in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukada earlier this week. "Iran and Japan as two civilized and influential nations should get ready for a world minus the U.S."
So, are Israeli leaders planning to launch a massive air attack on Iran before the end of the year? Or are they trying to persuade the U.S. to do it before President Bush leaves office? Perhaps both. Which underscores the point I've been making for some time -- while we intensify our efforts to pray for peace in the epicenter, we also need to be intensifying our efforts to prepare for war.
"An Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites looks 'unavoidable' given the apparent failure of Western sanctions to deny Tehran technology with bomb-making potential," Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz said Friday, according to Reuters report. "If Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The sanctions are ineffective," said Mofaz.
"It was the most explicit threat yet against Iran from a member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, which, like the Bush administration, has preferred to hint at force as a last resort should United Nations Security Council sanctions fail to achieve the desired abandonment of nuclear development by Tehran. Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weapons, has defied Western pressure to abandon its uranium enrichment projects. The leadership in Tehran has also threatened to retaliate against Israel -- believed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal -- and U.S. targets in the Gulf for any attack on Iranian turf. Mofaz also said in the interview that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, 'would disappear before Israel does."
"The White House sidestepped questions about the Israeli threat to attack Iranian nuclear sites, saying it would not respond to hypothetical question," reported Ynet News in Israel. "'The world community, I believe, is united in the desire to make sure that Iran doesn't develop a nuclear weapon and have a severe threat that we don't want to see come to fruition,' White House spokesman Scott Stanzel told reporters. But asked specifically whether the United States would support an Israeli strike on Iran, he said, 'I'm not going to talk about hypotheticals. I think we've been pretty clear in recent weeks and months about our approach on Iran"
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is warning that Israel may soon be forced to launch a major military operation in Gaza to stop thousands of rockets, mortars and missiles which continue raining down on the southern cities and towns of the Jewish State....Reports the Jerusalem Post: "Prime Minister Ehud Olmert returned to Israel from the US on Friday morning and, echoing the previous day's remarks by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, hinted that Gaza's day of reckoning was fast approaching. 'We are constantly evaluating between the possibility [of a deal] to reach complete quiet and the lack of a possibility of reaching such an agreement,' he said. 'The absence of the latter option will draw us closer to an operation that will be much harsher and tougher against the [terror] groups.
"According to the information we have now, the pendulum is closer to a decision to embark on a harsh operation in the Gaza Strip than it is to an agreement with the terror organizations,' continued Olmert. Olmert's comments came a day after Amnon Rozenberg, 51, a father of three, was killed by a Gaza shell that hit the Nirlat paint factory at Kibbutz Nir Oz. The Security Cabinet is set to convene on Tuesday to discuss a response to the incessant attacks from Gaza. Olmert told an Israel Radio reporter that Israel was exploring all the options available in order to achieve complete quiet for southerners without the need to enter into a violent and severe confrontation with terror groups in the Strip, adding, however, that there was a distinct possibility Israel would need to embark on an offensive and extensive operation against Palestinian terror groups."
Weighing heavily on Olmert as he makes decisions about Iran and Gaza is his own precarious political position, and the fact that both he and President Bush will be out of office soon. Olmert was in Washington earlier this week, meeting with President Bush and other senior administration officials, as well as addressing the annual conference of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. But Olmert's trip may be his last to D.C. as premier.
The buzz out of Israel is that early elections are increasingly expected, perhaps this November or December. While this is not yet official -- and Israeli politics are notoriously turbulent and unpredictable -- leaders and field workers of the major parties are working under the assumption that the Olmert government, tainted by the failed Second Lebanon War and new allegations of corruption, is on its last legs and that they need to be ready for snap elections in the fall. For now, all eyes are focused on June 18th, the dates the Knesset could vote to dissolve itself, automatically triggering new elections.
New polling indicates the Likud Party, led by former Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu is not only far ahead but surging. Were elections held this month, Likud would be expected to pick up as many as 35 parliament seats, up from an estimated 30 seats last November. The Labour Party, by contrast -- led by current Defense Minister Ehud Barak -- has lost significant ground since last November, garnering support for only 19 seats currently, down from 23. Olmert's Kadima Party, meanwhile, continues to slide. Current polls show Kadima -- likely to be led by current Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni after Olmert's departure -- would receive only 11 Knesset seats, rather than 15.
Polling Data: Prospective results of a Knesset election (Results presented in seats)
Likud -- 35 seats (up from 30 in Nov)
Labour -- 19 seats (down from 23 in Nov)
Kadima -- 13 seats (down from 15 in Nov)
Israel Our Home -- 11 seats (same as Nov)
Shas -- 11 seats (up from 9 in Nov)
United Torah Judaism -- 6 seats (same as Nov)
National Religious Party -- 5 seats (down from 6 in Nov)
Yachad -- 5 seats (up from 4 in Nov)
Social Justice -- 2 seats (down from 4 in Nov)
Green Party -- 2 seats (up from 0 in Nov)
Arab parties -- 11 seats (down from 10 in Nov)
Retired People's Party -- 0 seats (down from 2 in Nov)
[Source: Dialog / Haaretz Methodology: Interviews with 467 Israeli adults, conducted on May 27 and May 28, 2008. Margin of error is 5 per cent.]