NEW YORK - While Pakistan’s vibrant media remained focused on the Zardari-Sharifs confrontation, the president’s visit to India, memogate and host of other challenges facing the country, a huge controversy brewing in the West about an anti-Israel poem published by German Nobel Laureate Gunter Grass three days ago has received little or no attention.

The celebrated German author labelled Israel a threat to “already fragile world peace”, comment that touch off a wave of condemnatory statements from pro-Israeli groups, politicians and writers in Europe and the United States. Iran praised the poem but none of the Arab countries have reacted.

In the poem, titled ‘What Must be Said’, published on Wednesday in German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Italy’s La Repubblica among others, Grass criticises what he describes as western hypocrisy over Israel’s own suspected nuclear programme amid speculation it might engage in military action against Iran to stop it building an atomic bomb, according to media reports.

The 84-year-old Grass said he had been prompted to put pen to paper by Berlin’s recent decision to sell Israel a submarine able to “send all-destroying warheads where the existence of a single nuclear bomb is unproven”.

“The nuclear power Israel is endangering the already fragile world peace,” he wrote. His poem specifically criticises Israel’s “claim to the right of a first strike” against Iran.

Grass also called for “unhindered and permanent control of Israel’s nuclear capability and Iran’s atomic facilities through an international body”.

With Israel threatening to take military action against Iran’s nuclear programme, the German author writes: “Why do I say only now, aged and with my last drop of ink, that the nuclear power Israel endangers an already fragile world peace? Because that must be said, which may already be too late to say tomorrow.”

Israel is widely believed to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons — more than 200 bombs — but has never admitted it, pursuing instead an official policy of “ambiguity” to deter potential attackers. The United States or any one of its allies has ever called for Israel to open its nuclear facilities.

Israel has three Dolphin submarines from Germany - one half-funded and two entirely funded by Berlin - two more are under construction, and the contract for a sixth submarine was signed last month. Dolphin-class submarines can carry nuclear-tipped missiles.

Iran says its atomic programme is for peaceful purposes and that it only seeks nuclear power for energy and medical research.

Grass said he long kept silent on Israel’s own nuclear programme because his country — Germany — committed “crimes that are without comparison”, but he has come to see that silence as a “burdensome lie and a coercion” whose disregard carries a punishment - “the verdict ‘antisemitism’ is commonly used,” a German newspaper said

The left-leaning Grass established himself as a leading literary figure with The Tin Drum, published in 1959, and won the Nobel Prize in 1999. He urged fellow Germans to confront their painful Nazi history in the decades after the Second World War. Grass’s comments swiftly drew sharp criticism on Wednesday.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is a staunch ally of Israel, and her spokesman reacted coolly to Grass’s remarks. “There is artistic freedom in Germany, and there thankfully also is the freedom of the government not to have to comment on every artistic production,” Steffen Seibert said.

Grass has since been accused of anti-Semitism, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuked his views as “ignorant and objectionable.”

In an interview published Saturday by the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Grass says he sought foremost to single out the policies of “Netanyahu’s current government.”

“It’s that which I criticize, a policy that keeps building settlements despite a UN resolution. I’m criticizing a policy which is creating more and more enemies for Israel and is increasingly isolating it,” Grass said.

The German writer added that Netanyahu was the person who did Israel the most harm, saying he “should have added that to the poem.”

The Nobel laureate’s comments came after on Thursday Grass said he his poem was misunderstood, saying in an interview with a German public broadcaster that the”overall tenor is to not engage in the content of the poem, but instead to wage a campaign against me and to claim that my reputation is damaged forever.”

Also on Saturday, a senior Iranian official praised Grass for his poem, saying he has beautifully carried out his human and historical responsibility.

In a letter published by the semiofficial Fars news agency, Iranian Deputy Culture Minister Javad Shamaqdari said the 84-year-old poet’s revelation of “truth may awaken the silent conscience” of the West.

However, the Iranian officials weren’t the only one supporting Grass’ critical words on Saturday, as officials in the far-right German faction NPD wrote on the party’s website that “Grass broke the taboo when he criticized the Jewish state’s aggressive policy.”

The Nobel laureate also received backing from Wolfgang Gehrcke, a German parliament member on behalf of the left-wing party Die Linke, who said: “He’s right.”