Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said leadership is tested when upholding
national interests, "even if there are disagreements with friends, even
the best of friends," referring to a public rift with the United States
over Iran's nuclear program.
"As prime minister of Israel, it is
my duty to uphold the vital interests of the State of Israel, to ensure
its security and its future," adding that those interests are
preventing Iran's "clear steps toward achieving nuclear weapons."
Earlier Wednesday, opposition leader Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) blamed Netanyahu for what he called the deteriorating relationship between the US and Israel, in a special meeting during the Knesset’s summer recess on Wednesday.
“Mr. Prime Minister, tell me, who is our biggest enemy, the US or Iran? Who do you want replaced, [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad or [US President Barack] Obama?” Mofaz asked in the plenum. “How low are you prepared to drag relations with our closest ally?”
According to the opposition leader, world leaders have not turned their backs to Israel, but they do not trust Netanyahu.
“Israel is not alone; we have good friends overseas. Talk to them. Have a real, open dialogue. Make them partners, not observers from the side,” he suggested.
MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) also criticized Netanyahu, saying there is a rift between him and Obama.
“Obama’s decision to meet with Israel says one thing – he does not have an interest in a public dialogue with Israel,” the Kadima MK stated. “Intimate meetings between leaders are necessary, but it is not happening this time.”
Shai said Netanyahu has insinuated that he does not have faith in Obama and the international community by saying that, since they will not draw a red line for Iran’s nuclear program, they may not draw one for Israel.
Two other Kadima MKs privately said that Mofaz’s speech went too far in taking Obama’s side.
Israelis like Netanyahu more than Obama, they explained, and Mofaz’s position could lead to Kadima losing votes.
“US-Israel relations are a cornerstone of our foreign policy, which has been tested before,” Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor said in his rebuttal to Mofaz’s speech, mentioning tension between former prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir with former US presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, respectively.
“Things happened,” Meridor shrugged, “but everyone who follows what happens in the UN Security Council and General Assembly know that we do not have a greater ally than the US.”
The minister added that Israel has never endorsed a candidate in the US presidential or any other election in a foreign countries, and expressed confidence the government will maintain good relations with whoever is elected.
Mofaz also called for Netanyahu to “stop seeding fear and panic” on the topic of Iran.
“Wars should only be waged when there is no choice,” he said. “We know how they will start, but not how they will end. Where is your judgment? You are scaring the public.”
The opposition leader slammed Netanyahu’s attempts to convince the world to help stop Iran’s nuclear plan, saying that the result of his actions was 120 countries and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon clapping for Ahmadinejad at the Non-Aligned Movement gathering in Iran.
“Our prime minister created panic, while Teheran succeeded in creating a coalition of friendly states,” he stated.
Meridor responded that there is a worldwide battle to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons which has diplomatic, economic and military aspects, many of which are confidential.
“This is an unprecedented battle,” he said. “Israel played a major part in moving it along and putting Iran on the international agenda.”
According to Meridor, the battle has been successful thus far in preventing Iran from reaching its goals. However, he said, Teheran hasn’t stopped its efforts, and the world must stop them.
“We wouldn’t go to war easily, because people are killed in war,” Meridor added. “No war is something a sane person does unless it is his last choice.”
Mofaz referred to leaks from security cabinet meetings on Iran asking how “one of the most discreet and intimate forums in the State of Israel became an open market,” and saying Netanyahu should undergo a polygraph test.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin paraphrased Begin, saying that ministers’ truthfulness should not have to be tested; rather, trustworthy ministers should be selected.
“Our government cannot be turned into an institute for researching the truth,” he quipped.
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Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.