Israel sees more US 'understanding' on Iran's nukes
Defense Secretary Robert Gates reassured Israelis that the offer to talk to Tehran isn't open-ended, but some caution that Obama's basic policy on the issue has not changed.
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"I think the administration understands more strongly that it will not be easy to have this dialogue in Iran, and it might probably fail, says Shlomo Brom, a fellow at the Tel Aviv University Institute for National Security Studies and former head of the army's strategic planning division.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite the close strategic cooperation between the two allies, he added, "There were some Israeli concerns that the US could let the dialogue continue with Iran indefinitely."
Israel would like to see the international community exercise pressure for sanctions, but has kept the military option firmly on the table. At the joint press conference Monday, Barak insisted that Israel retains the right to act independently to defend itself.
"We prefer to get the tools and the support but to execute ... the defense of Israel by ourselves," he said. "We aren't blind to the fact that our actions influence neighbors and others. Ultimately we're committed to the national security interest of Israel."
Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and a current adviser to Mr. Netanyahu, says Israel's position has gained more understanding from US officials. "The mutual comprehension of the US and Israel on the nuclear issue is becoming closer than ever," he says.
But Stephen Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the recent opinion piece, "Why Israel Won't Attack Iran," cautions that talk of a US shift on Iran is premature. The September target for an Iranian response is pegged to crafting an international statement on Iran at the upcoming G-20 meeting, not necessarily to a more sympathetic reading of Israel's approach to the issue, he said.
"I'd say that's a little more wishful thinking than actual reality," says Dr. Cook. "It complicates the administration's intentions to engage with Iran, but thus far I haven't heard a single administration official back away from that policy, either on the record or off the record."
Mitchell paves the way for Arab-Israeli talks
Gates's six-hour stopover in Israel came a day after US Middle East envoy George Mitchell arrived to discuss restarting peace talks and a day before National Security Adviser James Jones is scheduled to visit.
Relying on Mitchell as the point person, the US is hoping to convince Israel to rein in Jewish settlement expansion while prodding Arab countries to make a gesture toward normalization of ties with Israel.
The settlement dispute escalated again last week as Netanyahu drew a red line on the settlement issue, insisting in public that Israel would not restrict building in East Jerusalem – a part of the West Bank that Israel annexed after the 1967 war as part of its capital.
Though both Gates and Mitchell have emphasized Washington's commitment to Israel's security on their respective visits, the Barak-Mitchell remarks to the press were shorter and less detailed.