In the past few days there have been encouraging signs that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has somewhat softened his attitude to an Israeli strike on Iran in the near term. After meeting with the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., Barak said the concentration of American forces in the Persian Gulf might make Israeli military action against Iran unnecessary.
Speaking Thursday at a gathering of his Atzmaut party, the defense minister said that despite the differences between the Israeli and U.S. perspectives on the threat posed by Iran, and despite Israel's right to make decisions affecting its own future and security, he attributed supreme importance to the intelligence cooperation and security backing that Israel receives from Washington.
While Barak took care in his remarks to keep the Iran issue separate from the upcoming U.S. election, additional proof came Friday of efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reinforce the claim by Republican candidate Mitt Romney that President Barack Obama "threw Israel under the bus." The chairman of the House intelligence committee, U.S. Representative Mike Rogers, confirmed in an interview that in a meeting with Netanyahu around two weeks ago, the prime minister harshly criticized Obama's Iran policy. As expected, the Republican from Michigan did not save the American electorate from Netanyahu's message, according to which the Israelis are frustrated "with the lack of clarity and the uncertainty about what [the Obama administration's] position is on the Iranian nuclear program."
Despite his limited electoral power, Barak is the U.S. administration's highest-ranking Israeli contact person, and has been playing the role of the responsible adult among the political leadership in Jerusalem. Assuming that Barak's latest moves are not part of some con, Netanyahu would do well to listen carefully to his statements and the assessments of Israel's intelligence chiefs on the strategic importance of cooperation with the United States, and on the deterrent power of a relationship of trust between the two countries. Undermining relations with the world's strongest superpower is many times more dangerous than Iran's nuclear program.
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