By ISRAEL HAYOM—
Despite his decision not to run in the upcoming elections, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert continues to attack the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Over the last two years we have spent more than NIS 11 billion of the defense budget on delusional adventures that were never implemented and never will be,” Olmert said on Friday evening’s Ulpan Shishi television program on Channel 2.
Hinting at the Iranian issue, he said, “2012 was a crucial year, that’s what they told the whole world. They frightened the whole world and fought the whole world on this issue, and in the end did nothing. We can’t continue to frighten the public on this issue and we have to cut the defense budget.”
Incidentally, Olmert’s words were spoken on the same day that Spanish police intercepted a shipment on its way to Iran for the purposes of its nuclear program.
Netanyahu responded to Olmert’s remarks during the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. “Over the weekend, somebody criticized my government over the investments we made in security. Indeed, in contrast to governments that invested billions in the disengagement, we invested billions in building up our strength so as to ensure the security of Israel’s citizens. We invested and we will continue to invest in Iron Dome, which stopped the missiles, in the security fence in the south, which stopped the infiltrators, in cybersecurity and in the offensive and defensive capabilities of the IDF, Mossad and ISA.”
Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu told Army Radio, “ remarks were strange and irresponsible. And of course I will not go into the details of our defense spending. We have developed offensive and defensive capabilities near and far.
He added, “think this kind of investment is important, like the money we invested in the security fence, which allowed us to stop infiltrators, or like the investment in Iron Dome batteries, which defended Israelis in the south and center. We have strengthened many of the capabilities of the IDF, the Mossad and the National Security Agency.”
The prime minister refused to go into detail regarding the defense budget, but said that “the money we spent was for a lofty purpose.”
Netanyahu reiterated that Israel must do everything in its power to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. “This was and remains my foremost mission as prime minister and whoever doesn’t understand that this is the most serious threat facing Israel, I believe cannot lead Israel. The threats are not disappearing, but growing. After four years under my leadership, Israel has capabilities it did not have before.”
Asked if it is possible that security officials are leaking information to the former prime minister, Netanyahu said, “I don’t know what they’re leaking. The number is inaccurate and his statement is inaccurate. Because this wasn’t a waste, it’s an investment in Israel’s security.”
Netanyahu reprimanded Olmert for speaking about classified issues. “Olmert spoke about a lot of things I can’t elaborate on, nor can I say what we’ve done or what we plan to do. I will just say that we always say of ourselves that we have the full right to defend ourselves. But you can’t exercise that right without capabilities. You can’t say, in general, we will defend ourselves, without developing specific capabilities. You know in the Middle East you will only survive if you are strong.”
Regarding Iran, Netanyahu defended his government’s spending and its policies. “Most of the world leaders who agreed to impose sanctions on Iran did so because they knew we were developing our own attack capabilities. If there is anything that led the world to impose severe sanctions on Iran it is the knowledge that we are serious, that we are determined to defend ourselves if necessary using our own capabilities.”
Asked why the critical year of 2012 passed without Israel doing anything, the prime minister said, “Iran has been stopped for now, just short of the red line I described at the U.N. I never said the goal has been accomplished.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Bogey) Ya’alon also responded to Olmert’s remarks. “I am saddened by his irresponsible remarks. They are a continuation of the total recklessness on the Iran issue that Olmert displayed on the Uvda television show.”
“Olmert, a convicted criminal, was the instigator of the unilateral withdrawal that brought Hamas to power,” Likud Beytenu said in a statement. “He made a debacle of the Second Lebanon War and made irresponsible concessions to the Palestinians. He is the last person who has the right to preach to Netanyahu, who has strengthened the country’s security.”
During Friday’s interview, Olmert also responded to remarks by former Israel Security Agency head Yuval Diskin, attacking the leadership of Netanyahu and Barak. “It was his duty to say those things,” he said.
In the same Army Radio interview on Sunday, Netanyahu steered clear of the brewing battle in Washington over the nomination for defense secretary of Chuck Hagel, whose record on Israel and Iran is under scrutiny.
“I do not interfere in the political appointments of the U.S. president. It is his prerogative,” Netanyahu, who has had a testy relationship with Barack Obama, told Army Radio when asked about the nomination.
“Congress decides and confirms, and we will work with whoever is chosen.”