There is no need to be alarmed by US President Barack Obama's decision to terminate the previous administration's plans to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, Israel Space Agency Chairman and former Kadima MK Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
"This decision does have relevance for us," said the reserve major-general, a two-time recipient of the Israel Defense Prize and a former head of the Administration for the Development of Weapons and the Technological Industry. "It is ultimately good for us that there are improved relations between Russia and the United States," he said.
Ben-Israel explained that although the US always argued that the anti-missile systems were placed to defend Europe's cities from the threat of Iranian projectiles, Russia had interpreted Washington's decision as reducing its influence and its deterrent capability in Europe.
"What is important to us is not the fact that the Iranians have missiles that can reach Israel - they have had them for quite a while now," said Ben-Israel. "What is important to us is what they put in their missiles, and in this sense, an improvement in relations between the US and Russia could benefit us."
"Thus far, American attempts to stop the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb have not succeeded - partially because the Russians have not cooperated with their efforts," he explained. "It is possible that because of this concession - and it is a concession, even if the Americans said that it was not - the Russians will be more helpful on Iran and will more support the American initiative."
Ben-Israel's comments followed the American announcement earlier on Thursday, but even before The Wall Street Journal first published rumors of Obama's intentions, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted in Yediot Aharonot downplaying the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons to Israel.
"Iran is not an existential threat for Israel," Barak said. "I do not see anything that could place before us an existential threat. This is a challenge for Israel and the entire world, but the response to Iran must be carried out through diplomatic means. This is the time for diplomacy and for strengthening the sanctions, and both of these channels should be simultaneously pursued."
But despite initial Israeli optimism, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on Thursday evening that Russia did not support increasing the sanctions against Teheran.
"Today, we have the possibility of holding a dialogue, which must result in an agreement on returning the faith that the Iranian nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Interfering with that process would be a mistake," Lavrov said in a television interview.