Gil Hoffman – Jerusalem Post September 7, 2012
Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared to hint on Thursday night that he believed the United States would join Israel in a strike on Iran to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Speaking at a pre-Rosh Hashana toast for activists of his Independence Party at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, Barak noted the meeting that he had earlier in the day with Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and said they dealt with all the developments in the region, but especially Iran.
“The State of Israel will make its decision about its future and its security alone, but the United States is our most important partner,” Barak said at the toast.
“[America’s] cooperation, intelligence-sharing and military support for Israel is extraordinary in its depth and its comprehensiveness, and I’m convinced that it will continue to be that way in every future test,” he said.
Barak, who received an update from Winnefeld on America’s preparedness for dealing with the issues in the region, praised the steps that America had taken to deal with a possible confrontation with Iran.
“We share the challenge, though our timetables are not the same and we have our differences,” the defense minister said.
“Israel maintains for itself the right to make decisions about its sovereignty and the United States respects that, but we cannot mistake the impressive depth of American preparedness to handle the threat [of Iran] from every standpoint,” he said.
Barak said that thanks to American generosity, Israel had been able to improve its situation defensively, noting advances in the Iron Dome, Magic Wand and Arrow antimissile systems.
He said the systems increased Israel’s flexibility and freedom to act.
Winnefeld smiled broadly, exchanging pleasantries with Barak in his office at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv in a brief video released by the Defense Ministry.
The visit comes after Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, dismayed Israeli officials by saying that Washington did not want to be “complicit” in an Israeli strike on Iran.
Dempsey’s comments were seen as a rebuke to Israel’s stepping up threats of carrying out a unilateral strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities before the US presidential election on November 6.
Washington has urged Israel to hold off in order to give economic sanctions and diplomacy more time to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment.
US Ambassador Shapiro said that the visit “was part of the regular coordination between the US and Israeli militaries on the common challenges we face in the region,” in a post on his Facebook page Thursday. He added that the visit aimed at strengthening defense cooperation.
Army Radio reported that the visit began several days ago and included an inspection of Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense system, which is jointly funded with the United States.
In its press release, the Defense Ministry also included photographs of Winnefeld and Barak appearing to measure, with their thumbs and index fingers, the size of Israel on a map of the Middle East on a wall in Barak’s office.
Since Dempsey’s comments, Israeli officials have been careful to be complimentary of the United States and its support for Israel. Before Barak’s comments on Thursday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman praised US President Barack Obama’s foreign policies, saying that “to the credit of the United States, it is the only country that stood by our side in our struggles at the United Nations, the Security Council and UNESCO.”
“The US increased funding for the Iron Dome. Even if we disagree sometimes and even if there is commentary that suggests otherwise, we must say that we have no better friend than the US,” the foreign minister continued.
Liberman hinted at support for a possible Israeli strike on Iran when he said that Yisrael Beytenu’s presence in the coalition made the government “more serious and determined to defend the interests of Israel.”
Reuters contributed to this report