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Israeli leader pays L.A. a visit

Ehud Olmert urges other nations to push to stop Iran's nuclear plans.

November 15, 2006|Larry Gordon and Stuart Silverstein | Times Staff Writers

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a Los Angeles audience Tuesday night that it would be "an unbearable sin to future generations" if Iran is not stopped from developing nuclear weapons.

"We cannot tolerate, we will not tolerate, those who challenge Israel's right to exist while actively seeking to develop the catastrophic weapons to fulfill their goals," Olmert said, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comment in October 2005 that Israel should be "wiped off the map."

"Our generation will be judged by its ability to ensure peace and security, not by its failure to stand up to the most challenging of threats," he added in his speech to more than 3,000 Jewish American leaders and activists at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Olmert did not mention any military action that Israel might contemplate and did not suggest any specific economic sanctions.

Nor did he make any reference to Israeli nuclear weapons. Israel is believed to possess the weapons but does not acknowledge having them.

Fresh from a meeting Monday with President Bush in Washington, the Israeli leader urged moderate Arab states and the rest of the international community to join American efforts to stop Iran's nuclear plans.

Otherwise, Olmert said, "we will enter a new era of instability unlike any the world has ever seen."

Iran insists that its nuclear program is aimed at producing electricity, not weapons.

Olmert was speaking to the annual general assembly of United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the 154 other Jewish community federations around North America.

The prime minister thanked the American Jewish community for its emotional and financial support of Israel during last summer's monthlong war with Hezbollah militias in southern Lebanon.

At one point, he brought to the stage Karnit Goldwasser, wife of Ehud Goldwasser. Hezbollah seized Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in a cross-border raid in July, sparking the war in Lebanon.

A third Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was seized by Palestinian militants in June and taken into the Gaza Strip.

None of the three has been released.

"There is nothing more important to me than bringing our three heroes back home," Olmert said.

He also seemed to address critics' contentions that poor planning and unclear strategies hampered the Israeli military in Lebanon.

"There are many lessons that must be drawn from this war. We will learn them and we will correct whatever is needed," Olmert said.

As he spoke, a group of about 100 protesters, some with Palestinian flags, gathered across the street from the convention center for a rally criticizing Olmert and U.S. support for Israel.

The protesters, college students and older adults, chanted slogans over a loudspeaker.

"We're here to say that we do not want Olmert here because we know that he's a war criminal, especially in light of the war he waged against the people of Lebanon this year," said Muna Coobtee, a Silver Lake lawyer and an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition, an antiwar group.

There were no counter-protesters, and police said there were no incidents.

Inside the hall, Olmert's speech was well received by an audience that was curious to see how well he would fill the shoes of his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, who suffered a debilitating stroke in January and remains in a coma.

Sandra Klasky, a Northridge resident, said she was "entirely impressed" by Olmert and how he was forging strong ties with Bush on Iran.

"I thought he had some sound things to say, and I thought he said them eloquently. And I thought he left us with some hope in a dire situation," she said.


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