A deal with Iran is the best way to protect Israel, says former PM Ehud Olmert

From 2015 to 2018 Tehran did not violate a single item of the JCPOA agreement


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks during a joint press conference with European leaders from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic in Jerusalem on January 18, 2009. Olmert said he wants to withdraw Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip "as quickly as possible" after having declared a unilateral ceasefire. Israel halted its fire in Gaza today and the Islamist Hamas movement declared a one-week truce in response while demanding that all Israeli troops withdraw within that time and Gaza's border crossings be reopened. AFP PHOTO/POOL/URIEL SINAI (Photo credit should read URIEL SINAI/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel’s former prime minister Ehud Olmert has spoken in favour of a new nuclear treaty with Iran in an exclusive interview with the JC.

His stance puts him at odds with current premier Naftali Bennett, who fears a deal to lift sanctions will open the floodgates for a new wave of terror masterminded by Tehran.

But Mr Olmert warns that Israel lacks “a military option” against Tehran’s nuclear programme – though it will eventually have the technology to “nullify” the threat.

Israel’s leader from 2006 to 2009 said: “I think an agreement will be better at stopping the nuclear programme than a series of provocative statements by Israelis that they will destroy Iran.

“We can’t destroy Iran, and we don’t want to. Israel doesn’t have a military option against Iran’s nuclear programme. Israel has the capability to damage the nuclear programme in other ways.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Olmert, who was convinced of accepting an illegal political contribution after leaving office, looked back almost 20 years to when he was deputy prime minister under Ariel Sharon and Iran’s nuclear programme was already high on the security agenda.

He said: “I was part of a very selective group of ministers in 2003, briefed on a regular basis by all Israel’s intelligence agencies on Iran’s nuclear programme. I can testify that all of the top experts were united in anticipating that in 2008 Iran would definitely possess nuclear weapons.

“We are now in 2022 and they still don’t have it. And that is due to lots of actions and factors – I don’t want to go into who those factors were – that damaged and delayed the programme.”

Talks in Vienna to resurrect the JCPOA deal signed by Barack Obama, from which Donald Trump pulled out, were until recently believed to have been nearing agreement. However, they have foundered over Iran’s demand that the notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) should be removed from the list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

Mr Olmert said: “They are two separate issues and should be dealt with separately. The fact that it can destroy the nuclear negotiations may prove something about the real intentions of Iran. They can fight with the West about the status of the IRGC, but what does that have to do with the issue of nuclear capabilities?”

Israeli intelligence officials fear that the billions of dollars Tehran stands to receive in unfrozen assets will fund terrorist activities.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen also vehemently oppose a new deal.

But Mr Olmert is one of several leading Israeli figures who believe that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement was a strategic mistake. Others include former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot.

Mr Olmert claimed: “We now know for sure that from 2015, when the nuclear deal was signed, until 2018 when Trump withdrew, Iran didn’t violate one single item of this agreement.”

Referring to the dramatic publication by Netanyahu in 2018 of a vast cache of Iranian nuclear files obtained by Mossad, Mr Olmert said: “The archive that we exposed didn’t show the opposite. It shows that they are restrained, because they know which price they will pay if they violate it.”

He acknowledges concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but believes Israel’s newly developed laser defence system will safeguard the country.

He said: “Maybe, in five years’ time, even if Iran would want to build nuclear capacity, at that time the sophistication of the new technologies of our defensive measures will nullify the possible effect of nuclear weapons coming from Iran.”

Mr Olmert spoke cryptically about feared IRGC chief Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2020. Although former Israeli military intelligence chief Tamir Heyman has suggested Israeli was involved in the assassination, Mr Olmert said:

“If he said that, it only proves to me that he talked too much for unnecessary reasons. We didn’t kill Soleimani. But I can tell you that Qassem Soleimani owed me, personally, 12 years of his life. And he knew it.”

He added: “One day I will tell the story,” but refused to elaborate further.

Mr Olmert explained the reasoning one US president who he refused to name had told him he used in deciding whether someone is a legitimate target: “‘If a person will continue to live, is there a good chance that many more innocent people will be killed as a result of this?

“‘And if he is killed, will it save the lives of many more that otherwise would be killed by his actions?’ This is a guiding principle to answer that question. And I think it’s a legitimate one.”

Mr Olmert was speaking on the publication of his new book, Searching For Peace: A Memoir Of Israel, part of which he wrote in prison after being jailed in 2016 for accepting an illegal political contribution

He served two-thirds of a 27-month sentence before being released on parole in 2017.

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