Is it possible that the half-hour meeting last Friday at the Gaylord Hotel in National Harbor, Maryland, between U.S. President Barack Obama and Defense Minister Ehud Barkak will be remembered in Israel's history as the moment at which Barack O. gave the green light to E. Barak - for better or for worse - to attack Iran? Can this be seen as a sort of flashback to the talk between Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig in Washington in May 1982, that gave rise to the (mistaken ) Israeli impression that there was an understanding with the United States over going to war in Lebanon?
Defense Minister Barak's entourage was tight-lipped, on returning to Israel Sunday. In other words, it made no comment. Of course, the members of the delegation would only know what they heard from one side of the Obama-Barak meeting, but such a secret could not be disclosed, even in a whisper. At first, it would only be reported to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A meeting between an Israeli defense minister and a U.S. president can be held for three reasons: to convey to the president confidential military or diplomatic information; to try to convince the president to change his policy; or to obtain information to update the assessment of the chances that he has been convinced about making some move.
The essence of such a meeting is the hope that the president will be influenced. If Barak hoped to convince Obama about attacking Iran in the coming months, there is still no apparent sign that he has been successful. One shouldn't belittle the American president's willingness to meet the defense minister, however.
Over the past several weeks, Barak has spoken to the top diplomatic and military leadership in the Obama administration: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. It can be assumed that Barak was also given an opportunity to see the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus. All of them are important, but only Obama makes the decision. When Barak was not satisfied after dealing with them - he had his hearing before the final authority.
When it comes to the division of responsibility in Benjamin Netanyahu's government, Barak is the liaison officer to the Democratic administration. Netanyahu is the liaison to the Republicans. The third decision-maker in Israel today, Foreign Minister Avigdor, deals with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The Americans are in no hurry to befriend Lieberman. When it comes to Netanyahu, by virtue of his position and the prestige of his post when it comes to American Jewry, the Israeli prime minister is tolerated a bit more. But that leaves Ehud Barak as the interlocutor.
For his part, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, does not suggest bombing the Islamic republic's nuclear facilities, but rather building an international consensus around the fact that Iran's conduct is unacceptable, before deciding how to deal with it.
This seems to mean that Washington will be taking the stance of the Arab countries and Turkey into account on the Iranian issue, so the decision is not simply one made between Washington and Jerusalem. The standard mantra that "all options remain on the table," is beginning to sound more like a message to Israel than to Iran.
The proof as to whether Barak has been successful, however, will only be apparent during a later stage in the U.S. election campaign, when Obama faces his Republican opponent and the controversy over Israel, the Palestinians, Iran and the region really catches fire. And that may not be all that catches fire.
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