With just eight days to go until the election, the battle between former prime minister Ehud Olmert and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is heating up.
Netanyahu has decided not to ignore Olmert's comments — which he made during an interview on Channel 2's Ulpan Shishi last Friday — in which the former PM accused Netanyahu of wasting NIS 11 billion on Iran attack plans that were never going to be carried out.
"On the issue of security, in the last two years we have spent more than 11 billion shekels on foolhardy adventures that were not carried out and will not be carried out — this is what I believe," Olmert said.
"[Olmert's] comments are pathetic and irresponsible," Netanyahu said Sunday. "He's one to talk? Who wasted billions in the disengagement [from the Gaza Strip] and brought a rain of missiles on Israel? We invested billions in the IDF, the Israel Security Agency, the Mossad, and in strengthening Israeli citizens' security. Taking care of the Iranian nuclear threat has been and will remain my number one objective as prime minister."
Netanyahu — who was touring the Golan Heights on Sunday — refused to remain silent in the face of Olmert's criticism.
"There is a great disagreement on the perception of reality, and anyone who is intelligent sees reality in a sober manner. While we have someone who is busy mobilizing the world against Israel, we also have someone who is devoted to mobilizing the world against a nuclear Iran."
"There is no merit in defending ourselves without the capacity to act," Netanyahu said. "There is no such thing as generally defending ourselves, in any general expression, without developing ability, strength and readiness. In four years I have mobilized the world behind international sanctions against Iran, and, in two, I developed our independent preparedness."
Earlier, during a cabinet meeting and in interviews with Israel Radio and Army Radio, the prime minister lashed out at Olmert.
"Over the weekend someone criticized the security investments made by this government under my leadership," Netanyahu said. "So, as opposed to the governments that invested billions in disengagement, we invested billions in becoming stronger in a way that is intended to ensure the security of Israel's citizens. We invested and will continue to invest in the Iron Dome systems that have prevented rockets; on the southern security fence that has stopped infiltrators; and on our cybersystems and the offensive and defensive capabilities of the IDF, the Mossad and the Israel Security Agency."
Olmert, however, refused to step out of the limelight. He continued his rebuke of the prime minister, this time over Israel's purchase of a Dolphin-class submarine from Germany — Israel's sixth submarine — a deal Olmert said was made "out of caprice."
"Israel recently bought a submarine from Germany for 500 million euro against the written advice of the Navy chief and other senior commanders within the security apparatus," Olmert said. "This megalomaniacal purchase was done out of caprice. The time has come to stop such hypocrisy; democracy can't be one great song of praise for the government — a government that behaves recklessly. These elections were intended to prevent passing a budget; no one is talking about where money was wasted. It was clear to me that there were those in the Likud that would say I carried out irresponsible wars," Olmert said during the course of his speech at a student assembly in the Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee, in the Jordan Valley.
Olmert also referred to the airstrike against the Syrian nuclear reactor in Sept. 2007, saying it was Netanyahu that revealed for the first time Israel's supposed involvement in the attack.
"I never referred to that [the attack] in such a manner. I could have gotten a little credit for the Syrian event, but you know who had a hard time restraining himself. The one person who spoke about that was the person who at the time served as chairman of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu, running with it to the television."
Officials in Likud-Beytenu were quick to react to Olmert's statements.
"Olmert's behavior is strange and embarrassing: it is inappropriate that a past prime minister acts like someone who is trying to mobilize the world against Israel, while the prime minister is acting indefatigably to mobilize the world to stop Iran's nuclear program."
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz added that "These comments are reckless. Olmert's statements are irresponsible. He excels at spreading negativity in elections."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin joined in the spat.
"The former prime minister — who is morally dubious — appears on television like he's the prime minister designate, preaching to us on how to behave morally. His appearance last Friday was a part of his electoral journey to the 20th Knesset out of the assumption that those elections are closer than they appear."
While the government's desire to prepare the IDF for a potential military confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program was legitimate, the financial sources for such an extensive program were unavailable, anonymous senior security officials told Israel Radio on Monday.
Lending credence to Olmert's assertion, the security officials said there were those within the security apparatus who participated in discussions regarding the strike against Iran that opposed such heavy government expenditure in a military operation that had not come to fruition.