Iranian regime swoops on universities to crush dissent, cracks down on blogs

April 11, 2006

* Saudis admit Israel was right to destroy Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981
* Saudis to construct security fence along border with Iraq: no international outcry
* Iran’s nuclear program: “A problem for every civilized country”

[* This is an update to a number of recent dispatches on Iran, the last of which was “How Iran duped the west”; Iranian Holocaust (denial) conference “begins today” (March 7, 2006)]

 

CONTENTS

1. Saudi approval, 25 years later
2. Saudis “launch nuclear program”
3. Saudis to construct security fence along border with Iraq
4. Iranian flag on Chinese bikinis
5. Iran sets up “proxy front” on Israel’s northern border
6. Small coalition to pressure Iran
7. Ahmadinejad: “very good nuclear news in the coming days”
8. “Sabre-rattling”
9. Israel “unable to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities”
10. U.S. denies planning attack on Iran
11. France denies visas to Hamas parliamentarians
12. “A problem for every civilized country”
13. “Iranian hawk swoops on universities to crush dissent” (Guardian, March 27, 2006)
14. “Iran hard-line regime cracks down on blogs” (AP, March 29, 2006)
15. “‘Israel should not be on the forefront of a war against Iran’” (Time, April 9, 2006)


[Notes below by Tom Gross]

SAUDI APPROVAL, 25 YEARS LATER

Twenty-five years after Israel targeted Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, a senior Saudi official has admitted that Israel was right to do so. The entire world, including the U.S. government under Ronald Reagan, strongly condemned Israel at the time. Some newspapers, including The New York Times, were particularly vicious in their criticism of Israel and its Prime Minister Menachem Begin for the attack.

When asked a few days ago whether the Saudi government now welcomed the destruction of the Osirak nuclear reactor, given Iraq’s subsequent aggression against Kuwait, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., answered, “Probably, yes.” Faisal appeared caught off guard by the question, which came after he called on Israel to disarm to create a nuclear-free Middle East, according to the JTA news agency.

 

SAUDIS “LAUNCH NUCLEAR PROGRAM”

Meanwhile, on Saturday the German magazine Cicero reported that Saudi Arabia has launched its own nuclear program with assistance from Pakistan. Western intelligence sources quoted by the magazine suggested that Saudi Arabia began its nuclear program in 2003 in response to Iranian threats.

In one visit, between October 2004 and January 2005, Pakistani scientists spent up to three weeks away from their Saudi hotels to work on Riyadh’s nuclear program. The Pakistanis were said to have been disguised as Islamic pilgrims.

 

SAUDIS TO CONSTRUCT SECURITY FENCE ALONG BORDER WITH IRAQ

Saudi Arabia has invited bids for the construction of a security fence along the entirety of its desert border with Iraq. The barrier is intended to secure the Kingdom’s 4,000 miles of borders to improve both external and internal security.

As of yet, there has been no international condemnation of the Saudis for their “apartheid wall”. The General Assembly of the United Nations has yet to refer the Saudis to the International Court of Justice. And European and American universities have yet to call for a boycott of Saudi universities.

The Saudi decision comes only months after India decided to accelerate the construction of a 2,500 mile fence to seal its border with Bangladesh. For more, see the dispatch The real apartheid: Saudi teacher to be flogged for 15 weeks for praising Jews (Nov. 17, 2005).

 

IRANIAN FLAG ON CHINESE BIKINIS

Here’s something that Danish newspapers might be reluctant to reprint: Chinese bikini models proudly featuring the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Chinese models wore the bikinis with the flags of all the countries competing in the upcoming soccer World Cup, as part of the China Fashion Week in Beijing last week.

 

IRAN SETS UP “PROXY FRONT” ON ISRAEL’S NORTHERN BORDER

Iran has invested tens of millions of dollars in setting up a number of sophisticated monitoring posts along Lebanon’s border with Israel. An Israeli army commander told the British Daily Telegraph newspaper that “The Iranians are using Hizbullah to spy on us so that they can collect information for future attacks. And there is very little we can do about it.”

According to the Telegraph, Iranian Revolutionary Guards are training Hizbullah forces in new terror tactics. Iran has supplied Hizbullah with sophisticated weapons including heavy mortars and rockets with a 30-mile range.

 

SMALL COALITION TO PRESSURE IRAN

On March 30, 2006 the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities. Iran has 30 days to cease those activities.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki slammed the UN declaration as an “angry precedent” and a “bad move.” Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Javad Zarif, said Iran would not bow to threats to give up its “right” to nuclear energy and added that his country was “allergic to pressure.”

Yehya Rahim Safavi, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander, recently warned that the “Americans should accept Iran as a great regional power and they should know that sanctions and military threats are not going to be benefit them.”

U.S. officials are also seeking other international help beside the UN. The Los Angeles Times reports that they hope to form a small coalition with Britain, France and others to exert economic and diplomatic pressure to persuade Iran’s rulers to halt uranium enrichment activities and cooperate with international inspectors.

 

AHMADINEJAD: “VERY GOOD NUCLEAR NEWS IN THE COMING DAYS”

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said yesterday that the EU could consider slapping sanctions on Iran, including a visa ban, if current UN-centered diplomatic efforts fail.

In a speech carried live on state television yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed he would not back down “one iota” over Iran’s nuclear programme. Speaking from the northeastern city of Mashhad, he said “Our enemies know they are unable to even slightly hurt our nation and they cannot create the tiniest obstacle on its glorious and progressive way.” Ahmadinejad also promised “very good nuclear news in the coming days.”

 

“SABRE-RATTLING”

In a concerted show of “sabre-rattling,” Iran has in the last two weeks announced several new developments in its military hardware, including a stealth flying boat, a radar-evading missile with multiple warheads, a rocket-torpedo, and an anti-ship missile that cannot be jammed. These developments came in the context of naval war games around the Straits of Hormuz, through which two fifths of the world’s oil passes, and were aimed “to display the Islamic system’s defensive capabilities.”

However, some doubt has been cast on the validity of the claims about these weapons. Several weapons experts described them as a combination of lies, exaggeration, wishful thinking and propaganda. Uzi Rubin, an Israeli missile expert, suggested that “they could be bluffing” about the radar-evading missile (known as the Fajr-3 missile). Rubin added “I definitely don’t believe that the Iranians could cook up such a sophisticated missile indigenously.”

 

ISRAEL “UNABLE TO DESTROY IRAN’S NUCLEAR FACILITIES”

Israel’s military is unable to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to a former leading U.S. intelligence chief. (Ret.) Col. Patrick Lang, director of the Middle East section of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, said that Israel does not have sufficient assets or support for a major attack required to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He cited the absence of Israeli aircraft carriers and the need for warplanes to enter the air space of Arab rivals.

Lang added that the United States is the only country in the world that has capability of carrying out the estimated thousand strike sorties needed to destroy the Iran’s nuclear program. He added that “The objective has to be not to destroy the program, but to set it back a desired number of years.”

According to the UPI news agency, a “prominent armchair strategist,” has asserted that two U.S. B-2 bombers “could do the job in a single strike against multiple targets… With a crew of two per bomber, only four American lives would be at risk, an all-time record in the history of warfare.”

For more on the claim that the Iranian nuclear installations could be taken out in one night, see the article “In a Single Night” in the dispatch (1) Iranian fatwa approves use of nuclear weapons (2) Contain Iran: Admit Israel to NATO (February 22, 2006).

 

U.S. DENIES PLANNING ATTACK ON IRAN

Whilst much of the mainstream media has covered in great detail the recent article by radical investigative journalist Seymour Hersh about plans being developed by the Bush administration to bomb Iran, President George W. Bush said on Monday that reports of an attack on Iran were “wild speculation.”

Robert Baer, who was a C.I.A. officer in the Middle East, is quoted as saying in Hersh’s article that Ahmadinejad and his Revolutionary Guard colleagues “are capable of making a bomb, hiding it, and launching it at Israel. They’re apocalyptic Shiites. If you’re sitting in Tel Aviv and you believe they’ve got nukes and missiles – you’ve got to take them out. These guys are nuts, and there’s no reason to back off.”

Iran dismissed the article as American “psychological war.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a weekly news conference that “This is a psychological war launched by Americans because they feel angry and desperate regarding Iran’s nuclear dossier.”

 

FRANCE DENIES VISAS TO HAMAS PARLIAMENTARIANS

In a marked change of European attitudes towards Palestinian terrorism, France has denied visas to two Hamas members of the Palestinian legislature invited to talks at the Council of Europe, the headquarters of Europe’s leading human rights organization.

France and other members of the European Union have declared Hamas a terrorist organization and thus are now denying visas to the group’s members.

In another development, Norway, which is not a member of the EU but is closely associated with the “Palestinian cause” due to the failed Oslo accords, yesterday announced it would cut funding to Hamas. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said that his nation cannot support a government regardless of its policies and as a result it would withhold a $57 million donation to the Palestinian Authority government.

 

“A PROBLEM FOR EVERY CIVILIZED COUNTRY”

I attach three articles below. The first reports that Iranian “President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is cracking down on Iran’s universities in an effort to crush a student pro-democracy movement and strengthen the hardliners’ grip on power.”

The second relates how the Iranian regime is also cracking down on bloggers: “Dozens of Iranian bloggers have faced harassment by the government, been arrested for voicing opposing views, and fled the country in fear of prosecution.”

The final piece is an interview in this week’s Time magazine with Ehud Olmert. On the subject of Iran, the man likely to be Israel’s next prime minister says that Israel should not be “on the forefront of this war… It’s a problem for every civilized country. Iran is a major threat to the well-being of Europe and America just as much as it is for the state of Israel.” Olmert adds that “it is incumbent upon America and Europeans to form a strategy and implement it to remove this danger of unconventional weapons in Iran.”

-- Tom Gross


FULL ARTICLES

“THEY WANT TO GAIN HEGEMONIC CONTROL OVER THE UNIVERSITIES”

Iranian hawk swoops on universities to crush dissent
By Robert Tait
The Guardian
March 27, 2006

www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1740267,00.html

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is cracking down on Iran’s universities in an effort to crush a student pro-democracy movement and strengthen the hardliners’ grip on power.

Leading student activists have been jailed or expelled from their studies, and lecturers have been sacked, while the government has proposed subjecting academics to strict religious testing.

The authorities have also begun a programme of burying the bodies of unknown soldiers on campus grounds in what student leaders say is a thinly disguised attempt to bring religious extremists into the universities on the pretext of holding “martyrs’ ceremonies”. Students fear that such a presence will be used to violently suppress their activities.

In one recent incident students at Tehran’s Sharif University were attacked by plain-clothed Basij (religious volunteers) during an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the burial of three soldiers from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war inside the campus mosque. The incident was overseen by Mehrdad Bazrpash, a close aide to Mr Ahmadinejad and a former Basij leader.

The event took place against a backdrop of speeches by Mr Ahmadinejad, a former university lecturer, stressing the need for “martyrdom” in Iran’s confrontation with the west over its nuclear programme.

Student leaders say the developments amount to a takeover of the universities by Mr Ahmadinejad’s ultra-conservative forces. The campuses were hotbeds of pro-democratic protest during the presidency of the former, reformist leader, Mohammad Khatami. “They want to gain hegemonic control over the universities, which have always been important in influencing the social and political atmosphere and which normally support pro-democracy rather than authoritarian forces,” said Abdollah Momeni, an activist appealing against a five-year sentence imposed for leading a student protest.

“Through burying martyrs on campus they open the doors for the entry of armed militias and thus add the universities to their fiefdoms.”

Other activists have had their studies terminated after the intervention of Iran’s intelligence services. Students also say they have been denied permission for low-level political activities that were allowed during Mr Khatami’s presidency.

The purge has extended to academics and university administrators. One political science lecturer was dismissed for belonging to a human rights group.

The chancellor of Tehran’s Science and Industry University resigned in protest at government interference. Mr Ahmadinejad has also been accused of overturning an established practice of appointing chancellors and faculty heads from academic staff in favour of trusted cronies. A radical cleric was recently appointed to head Tehran University.

 

“EVERY BLOGGER IN IRAN WHO WRITES IN HIS/HER NAME MUST BE CAREFUL”

Iran hard-line regime cracks down on blogs
By Lara Sukhtian
The Associated Press
March 29, 2006

seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/1700AP_Iran_Cracking_Down_on_Blogs.html

On his last visit to Iran, Canadian-based blogger Hossein Derakhshan was detained and interrogated, then forced to sign a letter of apology for his blog writings before being allowed to leave the country.

Compared to others, Derakhshan is lucky.

Dozens of Iranian bloggers have faced harassment by the government, been arrested for voicing opposing views, and fled the country in fear of prosecution over the past two years.

In the conservative Islamic Republic, where the government has vast control over newspapers and the airwaves, weblogs are one of the last bastions of free expression, where people can speak openly about everything from sex to the nuclear controversy.

But increasingly, they are coming under threat of censorship.

The Iranian blogging community, known as Weblogistan, is relatively new. It sprang to life in 2001 after hard-liners – fighting back against a reformist president – shut down more than 100 newspapers and magazines and detained writers. At the time, Derakhshan posted instructions on the Internet in Farsi on how to set up a weblog.

Since then, the community has grown dramatically. Although exact figures are not known, experts estimate there are between 70,000 and 100,000 active weblogs in Iran. The vast majority are in Farsi but a few are in English.

Overall, the percentage of Iranians now blogging is “gigantic,” said Curt Hopkins, director of an online group called the Committee to Protect Bloggers, who lives in Seattle.

“They are a talking people, very intellectual, social, and have a lot to say. And they are up against a small group (in the government) that are trying to shut everyone up,” said Hopkins.

To bolster its campaign, the Iranian government has one of the most extensive and sophisticated operations to censor and filter Internet content of any country in the world – second only to China, Hopkins said.

It also is one of a growing number of Mideast countries that rely on U.S. commercial software to do the filtering, according to a 2004 study by a group called the OpenNet Initiative. The software that Iran uses blocks both internationally hosted sites in English and local sites in Farsi, the study found.

The filtering process is backed by laws that force individuals who subscribe to Internet service providers to sign a promise not to access non-Islamic sites. The same laws also force the providers to install filtering mechanisms.

The filtering “is systematically getting worse,” said Derakhshan, who was detained and questioned during a visit to Iran last spring, just before the election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But is the government threatened because the tens of thousands of Iranian blogs are all throwing insults at it, or calling for revolution? Not quite.

The debates on Iranian weblogs are rarely political. The most common issues are cultural, social and sexual. Blogs also are a good place to chat in a society where young men and women cannot openly date. There are blogs that discuss women’s issues, and ones that deal with art and photography.

But in Iran, activists say all debates are equally perceived as a threat by the authorities. Bloggers living in Iran understand that better than anyone else.

“I am very careful. Every blogger in Iran who writes in his/her name must be careful. I know the red lines and I never go beyond them,” said Parastoo Dokouhaki, 25, who runs one of Iran’s most popular blogs. “And these days, the red lines are getting tighter.”

Dokouhaki doesn’t directly write about politics. She sticks mostly to social issues, but in Iran, that is also a taboo subject.

“I write about the social consequences of government decisions and they don’t like it, because they can’t control it,” said Dokouhaki.

Outright political bloggers have an even tougher time.

Hanif Mazroui was arrested in 2004 and charged with acting against the Islamic system through his writings. He was jailed for 66 days and then acquitted.

“It’s normal for authorities to summon and threaten bloggers,” said Mazroui. The government continued to harass him and three months ago, he was summoned once again by the authorities and told never to write about the nuclear issue. Soon after his release, he shut down his weblog.

“They kept pressuring me,” he said.

Arash Sigarchi, an Iranian journalist and blogger, was arrested and charged with insulting the country’s leader, collaborating with the enemy, writing propaganda against the Islamic state and encouraging people to jeopardize national security.

He had been in jail for 60 days when he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He appealed, and was released on bail. Although his sentence has been reduced to three years, he still faces charges of insulting the leader and writing propaganda.

Another, Mojtaba Saminejad, has been in prison since February 2005. He was first arrested in November 2004 for speaking out against the arrest of three colleagues. According to the Committee to Protect Bloggers, Saminejad’s Web site was hacked into by people linked to the Iranian Hezbollah movement.

After his release, he launched his blog at a new address, which led to his second arrest in February 2005. He was sentenced to two years in prison, and then given an extra 10 months for inciting “immorality.”

Despite the crackdown, most Iranian bloggers say the government is not interested in eliminating blogging. Instead, they believe authorities want to use blogging to further their own goals.

Farid Pouya, a Belgian-based Iranian blogger, notes the government has just launched a competition for the best four blogs. The subjects: the Islamic revolution and the Quran.

“The government has observed carefully and learned that blogs are important ... and they want to capitalize on that,” he said. “They want to lead the movement, they want to control it.”

 

“IT’S A PROBLEM FOR EVERY CIVILIZED COUNTRY”

“Israel should not be on the forefront of a War against Iran”
By Romesh Ratnesar
Time Magazine
April 9, 2006

In an exclusive interview with TIME, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister warns about the threat from Iran, praises President Bush and vows to press ahead with West Bank withdrawals

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with TIME World Editor Romesh Ratnesar for a two-hour interview at Olmert’s home in Jerusalem. Here are excerpts from their discussion.

TIME: Would Israel take military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program?

Olmert: As the one who has to take the decision, I can tell you that I genuinely don’t think Israel should be on the forefront of this war. I don’t know why people think this is first and foremost a war for Israel. It’s a problem for every civilized country. Iran is a major threat to the well-being of Europe and America just as much as it is for the state of Israel. I don’t think America can tolerate the idea of a leader of nation of 30 million people who can openly speak of the liquidation of another country. And therefore it is incumbent upon America and Europeans to form a strategy and implement it to remove this danger of unconventional weapons in Iran. To assume that Israel would be the first to go into a military confrontation with Iran represents a misunderstanding of this issue.

TIME: How often do you speak to President Bush?

Olmert: I’ve spoken to him maybe three times since I became Prime Minister. There is a very strong emotional bond between the two of us, every time we speak we both feel it deeply. I know how he feels and he (knows) how I feel. I think it grew out of his first trip to Israel, when I hosted him in Jerusalem. He knows that I like him. I very much depend on the understanding and cooperation of President Bush. The reason I think (disengagement) can be done is because of the trust and understanding we have for each other. In my opinion President Bush will emerge in history as the person who had more courage to change the Middle East than any person before him. I know the war in Iraq is controversial in the States, but for us in the Middle East it has made a great and significant impact. The decision of the President made an enormous impact on the lives of Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians – every country who was the potential target of the aggression of Iraq and Saddam Hussein. The sense of mission that Bush feels about war on terror is of enormous significant. When I think from the perspective of an Israeli and who is the partner, the natural partner who I speak with about fighting terror, it’s President Bush.

TIME: You’ve said that you intend to begin a unilateral withdrawal from some settlements in the West Bank, which goes further than even what Sharon said he would do. Why are you pushing to do this now?

Olmert: I’m not certain that all those who are trying to be the authentic interpreters of Sharon’s legacy can say with great accuracy what he would have done. When Arik collapsed, Hamas was not in power and the prospect of possible negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was entirely different. This has changed as a result of Hamas coming to power. To continue the same old rhetoric only because I have to think what would Sharon have done is a mistake. I have to think about what is best to do under present circumstances – what can be done, what ought to be done. If there’s one thing Sharon represented it’s not so much the old thing than the desire not to sit and do nothing. I’m sure that he would also have changed the way he thinks if he witnessed these developments.

TIME: There’s a lot of opposition to the plan from the settler community and their supporters. Are you worried that your plan will split Israel?

Olmert: I believe that inside the population of settlers there is a significant group that understand that the time has come for us to redraw the lines. If we handle it with sufficient sensitivity, I believe that we can avoid unnecessary eruptions of emotional reactions. And the plan is not just about dismantling settlements – it’s also aimed at focusing and moving forward to augment the three major blocs of settlements in the West Bank.

TIME: Will the lines in place at the end of it be the political borders of Israel?

Olmert: At least for a period of time. They will be very very close to what may be the final borderlines. The idea is that we will be separated from the overwhelming majority of Palestinians. The whole idea is to separate Israelis from the Palestinians and to allow territorial contiguity for the Palestinians from which they can take the necessary steps to build and develop and independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. I guess if at some point afterward there will be negotiations to finalize everything and in order to reach a comprehensive peace then maybe some adjustments. But the lines I want to draw are very close to the lines that I believe will become the political borders.

TIME: Would you consider going back to negotiations rather than continue with the unilateral strategy? Do you see any prospect for negotiations with Hamas if they moderate their rhetoric?

Olmert: They can’t just change their rhetoric They need to change their entire way of life, they need to change entirely their state of mind about Israel’s existence. It’s so much deeper than rhetoric. To just believe that if Ismail Haniyeh tomorrow starts using different words, that will make the difference? No way. This is a typical fundamentalist, extremist religious movement that does not think in political terms the way we’re accustomed to. Therefore I’m not very optimistic they can change overnight. They can change their rhetoric but they can’t change substance.

Their inability to accept the existence of two states and their total dedication to an Islamic religious fundamentalist state all across the Middle East to Africa to Asia is still their most dominant driving force. Don’t get it wrong, some of them are very sophisticated, well educated people. But they have a different concept of life.

TIME: Hamas says that if the international community – including the U.S. and Israel – continues to restrict aid, there is a real possibility of a humanitarian crisis in the territories. Doesn’t Israel have an interest in preventing a collapse of Palestinian society?

Olmert: We’re not going to wait for a collapse. We’re going to prevent it from the outset without any hesitation. I’m concerned about it independently of the issue of whether it would harm Israeli interests or not. It’s enough that it should do something bad for innocent human beings that I will want to prevent it. That doesn’t mean I have to cooperate with the Palestinian government. We have to find a way how to help the people without helping a government that can easily use these funds that will be transferred to them for different purposes altogether without any sense of regret or responsibility for the human needs of the population. We promise we will do everything we can to help meet the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people without any hesitation whatsoever.

TIME: How?

Olmert: There are many non-governmental organizations that can be of assistance, and money can be transferred directly to them. It doesn’t always have to go across the administration of the PA in order to become meaningful. We’re thinking about it. I’m having a discussion with my top advisers to see what we can do.

TIME: Will you release the $50 million in tax duties that you’ve withheld from the Palestinians?

Olmert: Don’t expect us to release the money to the Palestinian government. This is a terrorist government and there’s no way I can be sure that the money I release will go to the needs you want them for. They might go for financing terror – to Bin Laden, to Hezbollah – I have no idea. If we release the money it will not go through the Palestinian administration.

TIME: Do you visit Sharon in the hospital?

Olmert: Not at all. I have not been. I can’t talk to him. He’s unconscious. I talk to his doctors twice a week, so I know exactly what his situation is and I talk to his sons. For me Arik Sharon – I remember his courage and inspiration. I want to remember him the way he really was – not as an aging 80 year old man living in bed helpless and unconscious.

The last meeting I had with him was on the day of his collapse. He was to have an operation the next day. I was supposed to be acting Prime Minister for three hours while he had the operation. He asked me to meet with him. I remember joking with him and saying, “I’m not going to make any decision tomorrow except changing all your staff.” At the end of the meeting I stood up and said “Arik, this country needs you. Stay well. Come back. I am looking forward to hearing your voice on the phone tomorrow saying ‘Ehud I relieve you of your responsibilities. I’m back in town.’” Then I hugged him and he hugged me, and I said goodbye. I want to remember that.

TIME: Do you feel lucky to have been handed the opportunity?

Olmert: I’ve been working 33 years to reach this minute. I’ve been doing what I thought was right for the state of Israel. I was never hiding my opinions. I always was at the forefront in all the political battles over the last three decades. I am where I’m supposed to be. I don’t believe it was the only possible development that I would be Prime Minister. But I was among the 5 or 6 people in the room who everyone with political understanding would think could get the job.

So what happened was a natural outcome of a process of which I was a major part. There are things that can prepare you for doing this job – your wisdom or lack of it, your experience or lack of it, your personality, your frame of mind. But nothing totally prepares you for it because you’ve never been there before – you’ve never been in the place where as President Truman said, “The buck stops here.” It’s your decision that will count. I hope that I’m as ready as I can get. I hope that I’m as capable as I think I am to assume responsibility. But I’m not afraid, I’m not intimidated by anything. All my life I did everything to be ready now.

TIME: Do people treat you differently now that you’re Prime Minister?

Olmert: It takes getting used to. I received one of my friends at home the other day. I was in shorts and a T-shirt, which was fine. Then he had to leave, I saw him out the main door, and when I was outside, he said go back in the house. I said why, I thought he was worried about security, because the security doesn’t let me go outside. He said, ‘“Look how you’re dressed! You’re the Prime Minister!’” I thought, What the heck? This is how I dress. But life has changed, that’s for sure. I can’t go to the soccer game anymore, or I can’t go to the market. You have to measure the joy it gives you against the inconvenience to the average person.

TIME: Still, you became Prime Minister in pretty extraordinary circumstances, after Ariel Sharon’s stroke. Did you feel prepared for the job?

Olmert: A friend of mine who’s known me for 25 years told me, that perhaps the most striking effect for him was the fact I look so well-prepared for the job that’s unbelievable, as if I’ve prepared all my life. In a way he’s right. I know the professional experts of Israeli politics had other forecasts. But I knew one day I would be PM. I’ve felt for a long time that I knew what needs to be done and that I knew inside me that I had the emotional powers to be able to carry the burden that comes with it. It’s not something that was guiding me in everything I did every morning,. I’m not that kind of person, it’s just that I knew that one day I had to be ready to assume responsibility a the highest level, and that I had to think in this manner. There’s nothing that’s happened to me in the last few months that struck me as entirely different than anything else that I ever did in my entire life.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.