In a series of consultations apparently aimed at coordinating policies against the Iranian nuclear threat, Defense Minister Ehud Barak will head to the US on Monday for talks at the Pentagon, days after Mossad chief Meir Dagan was in Washington for meetings with key intelligence officials. Sources say Israel is urgently trying to convince the US that Iran is closer to passing the nuclear threshold than Washington believes.
Dagan’s visit came as Iran held a second day of military maneuvers on Thursday and claimed to have test-fired more long-range missiles meant to show that the country can defend itself against any attack by the US or Israel.
Barak will spend three days in the US for talks with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Defense officials said he would likely also meet with President George W. Bush.
A week after Barak’s visit, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi will head to Washington for his own round of talks with American defense chiefs, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, who was in Israel two weeks ago.
Barak hinted at Israeli readiness to attack the Islamic Republic on Thursday.
“The Iranian issue is a challenge not just for Israel but for the entire world,” Barak told a meeting of the Labor Party faction. “Israel is the strongest country in the region and we have proven in the past that we are not deterred from acting when our vital interests are at stake.”
But he quickly noted that “the reactions of [Israel’s] enemies need to be taken into consideration as well.”
A senior government official said the Dagan, Barak, Ashkenazi visits to Washington were part of the “routine, close consultations” held between Israel and the US.
Another government source said it would be an exaggeration to imagine that the meetings had to do with drawing up operational plans for any type of military action against Iran. According to this source, no decision had been made on the matter, and Israel was extremely unlikely to take any unilateral action.
A senior US official recently said there was a discrepancy of six to 12 months between the time Israel believed Iran would pass the nuclear point of no return, and when the US felt Teheran will have mastered the nuclear cycle.
The source added that the visits of the Israeli officials came as an intense debate continued to rage inside the US administration between those who favored military action, led by Cheney, and those opposed, led by Gates.
“Iran’s response to Europe is not ambiguous,” the official said. “Iran rejects the international demand to halt the enrichment of uranium and the world must respond accordingly – by increasing and intensifying the sanctions against Iran.”