Photo: IsraeliInUSA via Flickr
In the coded landscape of Israel’s intentions regarding a military strike against Iran, the defence minister, Ehud Barak, made a public statement on Thursday which may signify a shift away from unilateral action.Following a meeting with Admiral James Winnefield, the US vice-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Barak issued the following statement to the media:
We face a common challenge but the clock is ticking at a different pace for each of us. We also have our differences; Israel keeps its sovereign right to act independently, and the US understands this. However, there is no doubt about the US readiness to face the challenge on every level. Only Israel will take decisions regarding its future and security. However, the US is our most important ally. The intelligence co-operation and the military support are deep and exceptional in scope. I am sure that it will stay this way in any scenario that might happen in the future.
One interpretation of this is that Barak is saying: Israel will not give up its right to act alone, but it won’t exercise it in the next two or three months.
The key phrase is “the US is our most important ally” – a tacit acknowledgement that Israel cannot act in defiance of American disapprobation, which has been made so abundantly clear.
A news report in Haaretz offered further quotes from Barak, who was speaking at a gathering of his party members. “Israel retains its right to make sovereign decisions and the United States respects that. However, one should not ignore the impressive preparations by the Americans to counter Iran on all fronts,” Barak said according to this report. The clear implication is that Israel has new faith in its superpower ally.
Some observers detect a significant shift in Barak’s stance in recent days and weeks, including my colleague Julian Borger, who wrote a couple of days ago that the odds on a military strike were lengthening.
Haaretz carries a piece by Yossi Verter on Friday which starts: “Word is that defence minister Ehud Barak is no longer as gung-ho about an attack on Iran as his media interviews suggest … A top American source told an Israeli politician this week that the Americans now consider Barak to be a pouring-cold-water-over-things type of person, rather than someone who starts fires. People who have met with him in recent weeks got a similar impression. One said Barak cited his reasons for not attacking now with the same conviction and skill he used to support the opposite approach just two months ago.”
The rightwing Jerusalem Post, however, has a different interpretation of Barak’s comments. Its lead story in the print edition on Friday morning says that Barak “appeared to hint … that he believed the United States would join Israel in a strike on Iran to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons”.
The fact that the headlines in both papers begin with the words “Barak hints” reflects uncertainty over the defence minister’s meaning. But a more temperate mood now seems to be prevailing in Israel.
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