George Mitchell Ehud Barak Ariel Hermoni
U.S. special envoy George Mitchell during a recent meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Photo by Ariel Hermoni
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Defense Minister Ehud Barak is not allowing senior military officials to hold meetings with U.S. envoy Dennis Ross, visiting Israel this week.

Senior Israeli officials say that before his arrival, Ross specifically asked the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem to schedule separate meetings for him with outgoing Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi; his successor, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant; and the new head of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Yoav Kochavi. His request was forwarded to the bureaus of the officers as well as to Barak, who was in Washington meeting with, among others, Ross himself.

Some of the meetings were to have been held yesterday but Barak's office did not approve them, explaining that the defense minister wanted to review the requests after his return to Israel.

Foreign Ministry officials spent hours yesterday trying to finesse a solution that would allow Ross to meet with the officers. The final veto of the one-on-one meetings was issued only after Barak returned to Israel, last night.

The main purpose of Ross's visit is to address security and military issues, and most of his scheduled meetings are with military officials. In addition to Iran's nuclear program and the political situation in Lebanon, Ross had intended to address Israeli security demands as part of a final status agreement with the Palestinians and maintaining Israel's qualitative military superiority over Arab states. General James E. Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was scheduled to accompany Ross to Israel but canceled at the last minute.

The defense minister's bureau refused yesterday to comment on Barak's decision not to approve the meetings, saying only that he will meet Ross today in his Tel Aviv office, adding that "Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant and MI head Maj. Gen. Yoav Kochavi were invited to join the meeting."

In the past two years, Barak has maintained strict control of all meetings between senior officials from abroad and IDF officers, and on a number of occasions has prevented Ashkenazi from meeting with foreign officials. This has been one of the main bones of contention in the relationship between the defense minister and his chief of staff.