A disagreement within the government over whether to attack Iran's nuclear facilities has sparked a political catfight between two members of the "octet" forum of eight senior ministers: Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Associates of Ya'alon charge that Barak is behind the recent spate of media reports about the octet's deliberations on Iran, while Barak's associates charge that Ya'alon's judgment is becoming unbalanced.
One minister who belongs to the octet said that, at the forum's meetings, Ya'alon and Barak presented diametrically opposed views: Barak supported an Israeli military strike on Iran and said it should take place as soon as possible, while Ya'alon argued that Israel should give international sanctions on Iran more time, and that if military action did become necessary, it would be better for America to do it. Under no circumstances should Israel conduct such an operation on its own, Ya'alon said.
The tension between Barak and Ya'alon has been exacerbated by a string of media reports over the last week concerning efforts by Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to muster a majority in the octet for attacking Iran. This tension was already high due to several substantive policy disagreements - not only on Iran, but also on relations with Turkey and the Palestinians. Moreover, there is lingering bad feeling because when the government was first established in 2009, Ya'alon had expected Netanyahu to make him defense minister.
In recent days, Ya'alon and his associates have voiced scathing criticism of Barak in closed forums, even accusing him of being behind the media reports on the possibility of Israel attacking Iran. Barak, according to their claims, briefed journalists on the matter and tried to convince them that such a strike was necessary.
Ya'alon's associates also claim that even though Barak acts as if he supports military action against Iran, in reality, he opposes it. His statements in favor of military action are aimed merely at shoring up his position as one of Netanyahu's closest allies, they charge.
"For Netanyahu, the Iranian issue is the most important thing," said an associate of Ya'alon. "Barak knows this, and therefore he expresses support for military action in order to bolster his status within the government in Netanyahu's eyes. It's all spin."
Barak's associates reacted furiously to these charges and promptly counterattacked.
"Minister Ya'alon's frustrations are unbalancing his mind and his judgment," said one. "He who once warned of vipers in the Kirya [Defense Ministry headquarters] should be told: 'You see the mote in your brother's eye, but not the beam in your own.' Minister Ya'alon ought to behave responsibly, like ministers [Benny] Begin and [Dan] Meridor."
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