Israel’s launch Tuesday of a satellite to spy on Iran’s nuclear development program was seen as another step in improving its defense capabilities in the face of a renewed threat Monday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to destroy the Jewish state.
The latest threat from the Iranian leader came as Jews worldwide paused to remember the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered by the Nazis.
Speaking at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland on Tuesday, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres told 8,000 participants in the annual March of the Living that he hoped Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust a myth, "could come here and see the human hair, the eyeglasses, and the eyes that were behind them, and to ask: ‘Why, why did this happen?’"
"We need to defend ourselves, and we are able to do so," Peres added. "We must understand that there are crazy forces in the world. We must identify them and stop them before it is too late."
On Monday, Ahmadinejad said at a press conference that Israel is a "fake regime" and that it "cannot logically continue to exist." He previously said it should be "wiped off the map."
Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said Ahmadinejad is a "fanatic who has no idea of the consequences" of his words.
"He is very provincial and has no idea how the rest of the world responds [to his threats]," he said. "In some cases that is good because there is a growing anger and fear that Iran is out of control and is no longer the smiling face of the previous government that talked about reform, and in less threatening language."
The spy satellite, Eros B, was launched by the Russians in Siberia because Steinberg said it would not be economical for Israel to build a launch pad from which to send a satellite into polar orbit. Eros B, which reportedly has a high-powered telescope that can take pictures at night and through clouds, photographing objects as small as 27.6 inches, was being positioned between 300 and 372 miles above the earth and is expected to take 90 minutes to orbit the globe. It joins two other Israeli spy satellites, Eros A and Ofek 5 and is designed to monitor Iran’s nuclear and long-range missile programs.
The satellite is completely Israeli built and will be controlled by several Israeli ground stations, Steinberg noted.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz called the successful satellite launch a "huge achievement" that demonstrated the country’s proven ability to defend its citizens and "address the threats around us."
Steven Spiegel, a political science professor at the University of California, said that although the launch was a success, it would take another 10 to 12 days to know whether the satellite is working properly. He said he believes Israel should continue to "lie low" regarding the Iranian threat and let the international community deal with it.
"Israel should not be the centerpiece of the confrontation," even though Ahmadinejad is "doing his best to put Israel in the center."
Spiegel said the decision to create a new Israeli government led by three civilians in the top posts of prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister instead of at least one former general (something that has not been done in Israel in more than a decade) also serves to "accentuate a quiet Israeli reaction" to the bellicose comments of Ahmadinejad.
"And that is the way you want it," he said.
Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens was quoted this week as saying that he believed the expected appointment of Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz to the post of Defense Minister was a good one because a former military general "comes with preconceptions that make it hard for him to work." Peretz, the former head of Israel’s largest trade union, the Histadrut, served as an ordinance officer in the Israel Defense Forces.
Prime Minister-Designate Ehud Olmert of the Kadima Party served as an army journalist while in the IDF. Tzipi Livni is expected to continue as Foreign Minister.
Effie Eitam, leader of the far-right National Religious Party, which won nine seats in a coalition with the National Union, said he believes it is a mistake for Israel to have a civilian leadership at a time when "we are facing weapons of mass destruction in Iran" and when Hamas, the leader of the Palestinian people, similarly vows to destroy the state.
"The three people who are deciding the future of Israel have such a lack of experience," he complained. "What does Livni know about foreign policy? Olmert has no experience whatsoever. And Amir Peretz never was a minister and has had nothing to do with security. Out of the huge potential of talented people in Israel, that this is the trio that will decide what Israel will do in a problematic time is quite disconcerting."
Eitam said he would not join the coalition that was still being assembled at midweek. Noting that he would rather remain outside as an opposition leader, he was also critical of the decision to have 27 ministers in the government, the largest in Israeli history. Such a government is said to cost $100 million more than a government of 18 ministers and six deputy ministers because of the car and staff each minister gets. "It’s really a shame that we have such a huge government," Eitam said. "It’s very clear that the only reason we have so many ministers is that people have to be paid: political payments. … Kadima tried so much to say that it was a new party with new people, but it’s not." He said that "the new names that were supposed to refresh the political arena in Israel, like Uriel Reichman … are out. It is a victory for the old guard who used these names to survive politically."
Reichman announced this week that he was quitting politics and giving up his Knesset seat after he was denied the position of Education Minister, a post that went to Yuli Tamir of the Labor Party. Reichman said he had only entered the political arena after former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised him the education post and Olmert reaffirmed that commitment after Sharon suffered a crippling stroke in January. Reichman said he plans to return to his former post as president of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.
Spiegel said Olmert should not be blamed for appointing 27 ministers, saying the fault is with the public for electing so many parties with an almost equal number of seats. The way to prevent that in the future, he said, is to increase the threshold for wining a seat. Now any party that receives 2 percent of the total vote is entitled to one seat. Spiegel said the threshold should be raised to 3 or even 5 percent.
Meanwhile, Olmert, speaking by satellite to an Anti-Defamation League convention in Washington, said he is treating his election as a mandate to pursue his announced plans to withdraw Israeli settlers from much of the West Bank unilaterally should he be unable to find a Palestinian partner with whom to negotiate. Hamas denounced Monday’s bombing of an Egyptian beach resort that killed 23 and injured about 150. Although more than 10,000 Israelis had vacationed in the Sinai a week before for the Passover holiday, almost all had left by the time of the terror attack and no Israelis were injured by the three bombs that were detonated almost simultaneously.
The bombing was believed to be the work of a group associated with Al Qaeda or an Al Qaeda copycat. Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden became a champion of Hamas this week in a new audiotape broadcast Sunday in which he reportedly said the Westís decision to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority was because it is conducting "a Zionist crusader war on Islam."