Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak seemed to turn the page on their recent public bickering during a one-and-a-half-hour Saturday night meeting, saying that they had agreed to continue working together to overcome Israel's security threats.
In a statement following the meeting, Barak said that he and Netanyahu "see eye-to-eye" on every aspect of the Iranian threat, as well as "the relationship with the United States under the Prime Minister's leadership."
The dispute between the two broke out on Tuesday when a conversation between Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, in which the prime minister said Barak was undermining him during recent meetings in the US, was leaked to the press.
The meetings in question included one with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, a close ally of US President Barack Obama, which Netanyahu learned about from the press, and another with Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, to which Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was not invited.
Although the meeting took place just hours after the IAF shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle in the Negev, sources close to the prime minister said he would ask Barak for clarifications on his meetings in the US.
Netanyahu had also been expected to tell Barak that full coordination between them must be maintained.
Meanwhile, Barak’s office had said the meeting was being held neither to rebuke the defense minister nor to demand clarifications.
“No one rebukes the defense minister – not even the prime minister,” the source said. “Barak is acting to keep the country and its citizens safe, and he will continue to do so the way he understands, in Israel and abroad. He is convinced he is doing what is best for Israel’s government, its relationship with the US and its security.”
Following calls by Likud ministers and MKs last week for Netanyahu to fire Barak, MK Tzipi Hotovely tweeted: “At 9, the prime minister will meet with the defense minister to rebuke him. The meeting is expected to start about three-and-a-half years late.”
Earlier on Saturday, Yisrael Beytenu MK Faina Kirschenbaum accused Barak of less-than-collegial behavior and acting against the coalition line.
“Leaving the country and presenting a line that opposes the diplomatic and security policy of the government of which you are a member harms Israel’s deterrence,” Kirschenbaum said at an event in Ramat Hasharon.
Also this weekend, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz called for elections as soon as possible, following meetings with the prime minister. The two head Yisrael Beytenu and Habayit Hayehudi, respectively.
Netanyahu met with coalition party leaders to discuss whether they would support the 2013 state budget, though sources close to the prime minister say he has already made up his mind and would prefer to hold elections in February. The prime minister has said he will make his final decision public before the Knesset returns from its extended summer recess on October 15.
Following his meeting with Netanyahu on Friday, Liberman said Yisrael Beytenu was prepared to support a responsible budget but that it seemed unlikely other coalition factions would agree to do so.
“If we are going to have elections, it should be as soon as possible in order to not reverse this government’s security and economic achievements,” Liberman said.
The soonest possible date for an election would be January 15, although sources close to Netanyahu have said he preferred February 12, the first Tuesday after his government passes the four-year mark.
Herschkowitz echoed Liberman’s statements, telling Channel 2 the government must “act responsibly by either passing a responsible budget or going to elections as soon as possible so the minimum amount of time will pass before the next government can deal with the global economic crisis.”