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Israeli Leaders Wield Final Word on Iran Response, Defense Chief Says

Israel's leadership is solely responsible for determining how the nation should address the danger of Iran obtaining atomic weaponry, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday in comments reported by the Xinhua News Agency (see GSN, Aug. 16).

"The prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister hold responsibility. A decision (to attack Iran), once one is needed, will be made by the government of Israel, not by groups of citizens or editorials," Barak said in remarks at his country's legislature.

Israel, the United States and other countries fear Iran's atomic efforts are geared toward development of a weapon capability; Tehran insists its nuclear intentions are strictly nonmilitary in nature. The defense minister issued his new comments amid intense domestic debate over a potential imminent move to employ armed force against Iran's atomic efforts, as well as indications of growing disagreement with Washington on when to take further action if a strategy of intensified sanctions and diplomatic engagement does not defuse the standoff.

Barak added: "Dealing with a nuclear Iran in the future will be immeasurably more complex, dangerous and costly -- in lives and resources." His statement hinted at the benefits of potentially launching a military campaign in advance of such a development, according to Xinhua (Xinhua News Agency, Aug. 16).

Detractors have said Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are carelessly pushing the nation toward a missile exchange without historical parallel, the Associated Press reported on Thursday. Tel Aviv in recent days vetted a new national missile warning mechanism and began operating additional gas mask handout facilities (Amy Teibel, Associated Press/ABC News, Aug. 16).

There is a growing assessment that Israeli leaders' heightened rhetoric is aimed primarily at forcing the United States to take action.

Israeli politician Shaul Mofaz issued a harsh critique in reaction to a statement by Netanyahu and other discussion of a possible Iran strike, the Israeli website Globes reported on Thursday.

"You are headed for a rash confrontation at an unnecessary cost while abandoning the home front," said Mofaz, who several weeks ago withdrew his moderate Kadima Party from a coalition administration established in May. "Over the past few months, Israel has waged an extensive and relentless PR campaign with the sole objective of preparing the ground for a premature military adventure."

"This PR campaign has deeply penetrated the 'zone of immunity' of our national security, threatens to weaken our deterrence, and our relations with our best friends," he said.

"Mr. prime minister, you want a crude, rude, unprecedented, reckless, and risky intervention in the U.S. elections. Tell us who you serve and for what? Why are you putting your hand deep into the ballot boxes of the American electorate?" Mofaz added. Netanyahu and Barak could make a determination prior to the November presidential election on whether to strike Iran, insiders said in previous reports (Lilach Weissman, Globes, Aug. 16).

The matter is still undecided, Reuters on Friday quoted high-level Israeli government personnel as saying. The nation's leaders reportedly remain in sharp disagreement, while its armed forces harbor reservations over the possibility of acting against Iran in the absence of Washington's complete support.

One high-level Israeli government insider said: "Tehran doesn't see a U.S. strike on the horizon and is confident Washington will prevent Israel from attacking."

The source said his nation "is looking for stronger public statements from Obama, either at the U.N. General Assembly or some other forum, that would change Iran's assessment."

Holding a new exchange with President Obama to address the standoff is a goal for Netanyahu, Reuters reported. The prime minister is slated to make an appearance during a General Assembly session late next month.

Netanyahu's objectives are apparently to a obtain an assurance of U.S. force should Tehran refuse to alter its disputed atomic policies; a cutoff date for dialogue with the government; and harsher punitive economic measures.

Israeli efforts to press Obama at the height of his presidential campaign prompted expressions of disbelief among U.S. government insiders.

"I don't know what they are playing at," one U.S. envoy in Israel stated. "A unilateral strike by Israel would be an act of folly" (Crispian Balmer, Reuters, Aug. 17).

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