Former prime minister Ehud Olmert is a “complete” and “perpetual failure,” senior Israeli officials close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday in response to Olmert’s outspoken criticism of Netanyahu’s “utterly misguided” policy of publicly confronting the United States over its Iran policy.

In a harsh reaction to Olmert’s scathing words, the officials said the former prime minister had failed “at everything he had touched,” citing the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the 2005 Gaza disengagement and construction of the West Bank separation barrier. (The 2005 Gaza disengagement occurred under Olmert’s predecessor, Ariel Sharon.)

“Not everyone has experience in perpetual failure like Ehud Olmert,” Channel 2 quoted a source close to Netanyahu as saying. “In Lebanon, in the disengagement [from Gaza], the [West Bank] fence, and on the Iranian issue. Not everyone has a consistent background in complete failure in managing the country and [a lack of] understanding the international circumstances and political issues.”

They added that given the “torrential collapse” of the international sanctions regime levied against Iran, Israel’s options on the nuclear issue were limited, with Netanyahu doing what he could to put pressure on Washington using the most effective means he had at his disposal.

“What would they have us do, send faxes to the White House?” the sources were quoted as asking. “Seventy-five years ago, before we had a state, the Jews tried to talk to [US president Franklin D.] Roosevelt behind closed doors, but that didn’t really help European Jewry.”

The sources added dryly that while Olmert was “welcome to discuss” relatively trivial topics, such as “the borders of Qalqilya,” with the Americans behind closed doors, it was sometimes “necessary to speak up” on more pressing issues, such as Iran’s nuclear program.

On Sunday, Olmert had launched a bitter attack against his successor, Netanyahu, accusing him of causing an unprecedented and acutely dangerous rift in bilateral diplomatic relations.

“We’ve declared war on the American government. You can’t deny this,” Olmert said at panel discussion at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Under his leadership until five years ago, said Olmert, “it didn’t occur to us to go into battle against our best ally and to whip up Congress” against the US administration in the way that Netanyahu has done. “Any potential benefit” of such an open and unprecedented confrontation, he added, was far outweighed by the dangers.

Olmert also accused Netanyahu of “wasting” 10 billion shekels — some $2.8 billion — preparing “something we didn’t need to prepare.” This was an apparent reference to a potential Israeli strike on Iran.

Netanyahu has publicly savaged the Geneva interim accord with Iran as a “historic mistake.” Officials in Jerusalem have repeatedly castigated President Barack Obama for overseeing a failed negotiating process with Iran under which, they claim, Iran’s nuclear weapons drive is not being thwarted while the sanctions pressure against Iran is collapsing.

“There is one country in the world that regularly votes in favor of the State of Israel at the United Nations over all those years, in cases in which we were 100 percent correct and in cases when we perhaps weren’t 100% correct,” Olmert added.

“They [the United States] were always with us. What do you want from them?”

Hinting at a strike against a nuclear reactor in Syria that Israel reportedly executed in 2007 — when Olmert was prime minister — he said that Jerusalem has the right to act if need be but warned that such actions need to be kept secret and not talked about.

“This is not because there is no problem with Iran. There is a problem with Iran. It is not because we don’t need to fight it with all strength. We need to fight it with all strength,” Olmert said.

“Nobody will teach us a lesson about this — we acted and didn’t talk. Others only talk and didn’t act.”

Olmert, who was prime minister from 2006 until 2009, said he was not enthusiastic about the terms of the interim nuclear agreement, which was signed last week in Geneva, but added that he believes there are hidden terms that must be studied in greater depth before Jerusalem can effectively lobby the Americans for a better permanent agreement, which is supposed to be signed six months after the interim deal takes effect.

“I hope this will not be perceived as an attack on the prime minister,” Olmert said. “But the state of Israel should cease to criticize the policy of the US and the policymakers of the United States,” he said. “There are many other ways in which can influence [it] in order to achieve our goals.”

Netanyahu responded to the criticism later Sunday, saying Israel will not stand silent as its security is compromised and will take action to dispel any threat leveled against the state.

Speaking at the Great Synagogue in Rome, Netanyahu shot back at critics of his policies, and said that he was concerned more with Israel’s safety than with his public image.

“In contrast to others, when I see that interests vital to the security of Israel’s citizens are in danger, I will not be silent,” the prime minister said.

Adiv Sterman contributed to this report