Despite what he termed “mishaps” in U.S.-Israel relations over Iran's nuclear program, ties between the two countries, particularly in the intelligence realm, remain strong, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor told the Knesset Wednesday.

“Israel and the United States maintain a very close, intimate relationship on intelligence,” Meridor said in a special plenum debate on recent tensions between the two countries, called although the Knesset is officially in recess.

“There were mishaps. There were things I regret, a lot of blabbering and chattering that I would have been happy to have avoided,” he said. “This is one of those issues about which a measure of restraint must be shown, because this battle is serious, it’s being conducted in a serious fashion and it will continue to be so.”

Diplomatic efforts to get Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program have not yet failed entirely, “though they haven't been a complete success,” he said.

“Why doesn’t Iran have nukes yet?” he asked rhetorically. “They’re afraid. An international effort has developed led by America and with Europe as a part of it.” That effort, he said, includes tough sanctions, international isolation, unprecedented American declarations and the dispatching of U.S. aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf.

“There are also other efforts that are not being made on the surface, but under it. As a result, Iran isn’t doing what it would want to do, and hasn’t broken through to nuclear [capability],” he said. “In this way we, the world, have succeeded in delaying the process Iran wants.”

Despite a measure of success, Meridor conceded that the world has failed in achieving its ultimate goal. “Iran hasn’t given up the idea of becoming a country with nuclear weapons some day,” he said. Still, he recommended continuing efforts to squeeze Iran diplomatically and economically.

“There are many signs today that Iran is in distress from the sanctions … people are standing in line to buy chicken in Tehran. There’s a lot of pressure for budgetary cuts in Iran; there are tens of millions of dollars it can’t repatriate because the banks won’t allow them to,” he said.

Earlier during the same debate, opposition leader Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for worsening relations with the United States.

“Please explain to us which is our biggest enemy, the United States or Iran?” Mofaz asked. “Who are you more afraid of, Ahmedinejad or Obama? Which regime is it more important to change, the one in Washington or in Tehran? Please explain to us Mr. Prime Minister – what are your red lines for managing the crisis with the U.S. administration? How low are you prepared to sink the relationship between the two countries?”

Referring to the talk about a possible attack on Iran, Mofaz said, “Never in all the years of the State of Israel’s existence have the drums of war been beating overtime as they are these days. This is a government that doesn’t just conduct a reckless policy on social, economic, diplomatic and security issues; it is also managed in a wanton fashion.”

Mofaz, who left the government with his party in July, related to recent leaks to the media from the security cabinet. “I want to know how meetings of the diplomatic and security cabinet – one of the most important, intimate and discreet forums in the State of Israel – have turned to an arena that leaks secret materials? How did the State of Israel’s holy of holies become a lawless marketplace? How can it be that although you talk about continuous and serious debates, we know that we can count on half the fingers of one hand the number of real discussions that have taken place in the State of Israel’s statutory forums?”

Mofaz hinted that the prime minister was himself responsible for the leaks, and challenged him to take a polygraph test, which Netanyahu had considered demanding of other security cabinet members last week.

“Are you prepared to have a formal test administered by the Shin Ben Security Service and answer only two questions: Have you tendentiously leaked sensitive and classified materials to increase public support for military action [against Iran]? Have you transferred to unauthorized elements, as defined in the Penal Code, information that they are forbidden to possess?

“Go and be tested,” Mofaz said. “Give the results to the Knesset Speaker and let them be made public.”