The rift between Israel and the U.S. has grown as the two countries remain at odds over the timetable for a possible military strike against Iran's nuclear program. The matter has become especially pressing with the release of a purported new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate report, presented to U.S. President Barack Obama last week, which states that Iran has made "substantial and surprising" progress and boosted its efforts to attach a nuclear warhead to ballistic missiles.
Both countries have stressed that they are sharing the same information, and agree about Iranian intentions, its progress and the fact that it has not abided by international obligations, but the difference remains which policy to employ to combat the nuclear program.
Israel says time is running out and that the window of opportunity to attack Iran will only be open for several more months. Israel believes that action must be taken, either by issuing an ultimatum to Iran or by hitting its nuclear sites.
The U.S. contends there is still time before a military strike is necessary. White House Spokesman Jay Carney said Friday that the U.S. would know whether Iran was close to building a nuclear weapon.
“I would also say that we have eyes — we have visibility into the program, and we would know if and when Iran made what’s called a breakout move toward acquiring a weapon,” said Carney.
Carney later clarified that he was referring to International Atomic Energy Agency officials mandated to inspect Iran’s nuclear installations.
During his recent visit to Israel, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta outlined a problematic red line for Israel. According to Panetta, the red line for the U.S. is an Iranian decision to make a bomb. Israel's red line is preventing Iran from becoming a "threshold state" — a country that is capable of making a nuclear weapon but has yet to decide to do so.
Senior Israeli officials have expressed themselves anonymously, but harshly, against the Obama administration, saying that it is clear to everyone involved that the desired decisions could be made but are not because of the presidential elections in November.
Furthermore, Jerusalem is trying to downplay the potential damage facing Israel if it attacks Iran, claiming that an attack against Iran will not necessarily lead to a regional war. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have repeatedly said that Israel can, and must, depend only on itself, and that Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is acting tactically and rationally to achieve fanatic objectives.
During the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu attempted to calm the storm surrounding a possible upcoming military strike against Iran and said there have been significant improvements in Israel's ability to defend its homefront.
He cautioned, however, that the improvements "do not mean there are no problems" and that "the country is investing millions" to strengthen Israel's defenses.
Netanyahu stressed that all the threats facing Israel's homefront are dwarfed by the biggest threat, the Iranian threat, and reiterated, "Iran must not possess nuclear weapons."
Also speaking during the cabinet meeting, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said recent reports in the media about an impending attack on Iran posed risks to national security.
"One day, we'll look back and see how much the situation has deteriorated to the point that such a sensitive topic is being discussed so openly in the public," he said.
Former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit, speaking to Channel 2's "Meet the Press" on Friday, called on Israel not to trust the U.S. in matters related to Iran's nuclear program.
"I don't believe my friends, my allies or even my greatest friends. At hand is [Israel's] own fate, [its] own existence; I'm not letting [anybody else] take care of this issue for me. The U.S. can live with a nuclear Iran," said Shavit. The former spy chief concurred that the damage estimations faced by Israel if it attacks Iran are exaggerated.
However, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom on Sunday voiced a position opposite to the government, telling Army Radio that more time should be given for sanctions against Iran to have an effect.
"Seeing as how Israel cannot come to terms with an Iranian nuclear weapon, Israel needs to make its own decisions. In the meantime we can bring the U.S. along to make the right decisions, and that is to impose even harsher sanctions, which could subdue the Iranian regime – to topple it and maybe lead it to abandon the nuclear program," said Shalom.
Bank of Israel Governor Professor Stanley Fischer said Friday that the Bank of Israel had drafted a plan to deal with the possible economic fallout following an attack against Iran. Fischer told Channel 2 that the country's primary responsibility was to protect its security.
"If there is a need to spend more money for the security of the state, then we'll simply need to do so and pay for it later," Fischer said.
Fischer did not detail what measures were being taken, but said the bank was examining a number of possible scenarios to deal with the aftermath of an attack against Iran.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's Office on Friday said that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should cancel his plans to participate in a conference of the Non-Aligned Movement, scheduled to take place in Tehran in late August.
"This decision by the secretary-general is a mistake. This is involuntarily giving legitimacy to the regime in Tehran, a government which is sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council for its aggressive nuclear weapons program, a regime that supports terrorism, a regime that is openly anti-Semitic, that says my country (Israel) should be wiped of the face of the earth," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told Reuters.
In a written statement, Netanyahu said that Ban had "acted fairly" during his years leading the U.N., adding, "I was so disappointed to hear about your trip to the Non-Aligned Movement conference in Tehran."
Founded in 1961, the Non-Aligned Movement was created by developing countries seeking to steer a middle course during the Cold War. While the organization has 120 member states and 21 observer countries, only some 31 heads of state are scheduled to attend the Tehran conference, according to Iranian media reports.
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