Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that "there is still time" to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions without a military strike, arguing that Israel should continue "covert operations" to keep the Islamic republic from acquiring the bomb.
Mr. Olmert's comments come as speculation has intensified about a potential Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities in coming months, with Israeli officials privately fretting that Iran soon could enter an "immunity zone" in which its nuclear program no longer would be vulnerable to a military strike.
But in a speech Tuesday evening at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, Mr. Olmert questioned the premise.
"There is still time," he said. "I don't accept that we have exhausted what is known as the 'immunity zone.' I don't exactly understand what is the 'immunity zone' that some people started to recently use as a term for this, but in any event, Iran is still quite at a distance from possessing nuclear power."
His remarks echoed those of former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who told CBS' "60 Minutes" earlier this month that there is "more time" to exhaust other options before launching a strike.
The Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, widely is believed to be behind a covert war on Iran's nuclear program that has included the assassinations of several nuclear scientists on the streets of Tehran.
Mr. Olmert did not speak explicitly of the assassinations, but he did say that "there are many covert things which were done, which can be done, which ought to be done, and which will be done, but which need not be uncovered."
He added that "some of them are unpleasant."
"The advantage of this approach is that it does not force an outright reaction by the other side that can lead the entire Middle East into a regional war whose consequences can be very serious to the international community and to the world economy," he said.
Mr. Olmert said Israel cannot afford to ignore Iran's nuclear threat and needs "to have the capacity that, if worse comes to worst, at the end of the day, when everything else was tried and we are faced with this danger, that we will have the capacity to defend ourselves."
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