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Olmert Comments Set Off Firestorm of Criticism in Israel


Comments by Israel's prime minister that apparently imply the Jewish state has nuclear weapons have set off a firestorm of criticism in Israel.

On Monday, in a German television interview, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert denounced Iran and asked if Tehran, allegedly aspiring for nuclear weapons, is at the same level as France, the United States, Russia and Israel.

A spokesman for Mr. Olmert denied he was admitting that Israel has nuclear weapons.

The prime minister, in comments Tuesday, said Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East. He refused to elaborate.

Opposition politicians on Israel's right and left are denouncing the prime minister.

Yossi Beilin, a left-wing member of parliament, said the prime minister's comments raise questions about his ability to govern.

A former right-wing foreign minister, Silvan Shalom of Likud, said Mr. Olmert's comments will undermine the country's campaign to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

A second right-wing member of parliament, Yuval Steinitz of Likud, is calling on the prime minister to resign.

Experts believe Israel has nuclear weapons, but it has never admitted having them.

In the mid-1980s, a former worker at Israel's nuclear facility in Dimona, Mordechai Vanunu, gave the London Sunday Times a diagram of the nuclear site. Israel abducted him in Italy, and he served more than a decade in prison.

Arab countries have long called for a nuclear-free Middle East.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.