Haaretz reports: [Israel’s] Defense Minister Ehud Barak strongly criticized President Shimon Peres yesterday, after a Haaretz report revealed that Peres is expected to tell U.S. President Barack Obama that he does not believe Israel should attack Iran in the near future.
The two presidents are due to meet in Washington, D.C., on Sunday March 4.
“With all due respect to various officeholders from the past and present, the rumor that there is [only] one government in Israel has also reached the United States,” Barak said sarcastically in private conversations, adding: “In the end, there is an elected [Israeli] government that makes the decisions and that is its responsibility.”
During Barak’s criticism of the Israeli president, he made reference to Peres’ conduct in the early 1980s when Israel attacked the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, when Menachem Begin was prime minister.
“It’s the same Shimon Peres who in 1981 opposed the bombing of the reactor in Iraq,” the defense minister said.
“Peres argued then that Begin was leading us to a holocaust, and there are those who claim that, to this day, Peres thinks the attack on the reactor was a mistake. Imagine what would have happened if the Americans and their allies had attempted to get [Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait if he had three atomic bombs. The Americans said in retrospect that Begin was farsighted,” Barak reportedly said.
Barak’s harsh criticism of Peres is unusual in that over the past three years, the defense minister has carefully accorded respect to Peres, even meeting with him every Sunday before cabinet meetings.
Nonetheless, tension between the two has been simmering for over a year on the Iranian issue, as far back as the tenure of former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
In Barak’s office, Ashkenazi – who opposed an assault on Iran – was thought to have enlisted Peres as a supporter of his stance during his dispute on the issue with Barak.
Yesterday’s Haaretz report about Peres raised eyebrows in both the Prime Minister’s Office and in Barak’s bureau. Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the premier was surprised to read Peres’ comments in the newspaper. They called the comments very disturbing, and added that although the president has the right to express an opinion, ultimately there is only one prime minister in Israel, and he’s the one who is responsible for making decisions.