In a Monday interview with NPR, Israel's new president, Shimon Peres, calls for a united international front to stop Iran's nuclear program, saying Iran's president "worships" a nuclear bomb more than he worships God.
Peres has held nearly every senior post in Israel's government. At 83, he now has a new job: Peres is re-defining the parameters of the presidency, a traditionally ceremonial post.
Many Israelis believe the country's most respected statesman will restore honor to the office. His predecessor, Moshe Katsav, left in disgrace in a sexual-harassment scandal.
Peres said over the years he has learned that inspiration is more important than governance. He called the Israeli presidency's lack of direct power "an overwhelming strength."
"After being 60 years in politics, I lost my taste for management," he said. "I do believe that to inspire is more important than to manage. And to influence is more important than to give orders."
Peres is one of the few members of Israel's founding generation still directly involved in politics. He sees Iran's nuclear ambitions as the biggest threat to the security of the Jewish state — and the world.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has publicly denied the Holocaust, has called for the destruction of Israel. Peres said Israel has no choice but to take the Iranian leader's rhetoric seriously.
On Monday, Peres fired back, saying the Iranian leader's nuclear ambition is greater than his Islamic faith.
"Ahmadinejad is an unbelievable joke," Peres said. "He claims he's religious. My impression is that, in his eyes, the nuclear bomb is higher than Allah. ... He's worshiping the bomb more than he's worshipping the God in heaven."
Iran has insisted its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes. Peres, however, dismisses that idea, calling for a united international effort to stop Tehran's nuclear pursuits. He cites North Korea and Libya as prime examples of how effective diplomacy and sanctions can halt proliferation.
Many analysts wonder if the current U.N.-backed sanctions will prove economically painful enough to halt the Islamic republic's program. Peres, however, believes Iran's economy is in worse shape than it appears and that tough sanctions can work.
"Iran has between 20 and 50 percent unemployment, a high inflation rate. So, all this attention is about the bomb, but people cannot live on a bomb, cannot make a living producing bombs and missiles," he said.
On the Palestinian issue and the stalled peace process, Peres defended Israel's policy of supporting the West Bank government of Fatah while continuing to isolate Hamas, which Israel sees as a terrorist group.
The Islamists of Hamas now control all of the Gaza Strip, and the 1.5 million Palestinians who live there, after seizing control from Fatah last month. Some analysts say Israel is pursuing an unrealistic policy, hoping that Hamas will simply implode and disappear.
Peres rejected the idea of talking, even through backdoor channels, to Hamas, a group that does not recognize Israel.
"Hamas doesn't have any reasonable plan that we can sit and talk," he said. "They don't want to talk."
The policy now for Israel and the West is to try to strengthen the Fatah-run Palestinian government, whose control is limited to the West Bank. Palestinian lawmakers and legal experts have questioned the legality and legitimacy of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' "caretaker" government, which has operated without legislative approval.
Still, Peres said supporters of the peace process need to use "imagination and daring" to strengthen the West Bank's economy and set the conditions for a two-state solution.