Barak defends contacts with US after Likud attack

Defense minister's bureau points to positive results of work with US; Meretz head says Barak-PM feud is staged for elections.

Prime Minister Netanyahu with Defense Minister Barak  (photo credit: Courtesy )
Prime Minister Netanyahu with Defense Minister Barak
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Defense Minister Ehud Barak defended his contacts with the United States Wednesday morning after the Likud accused him of working to deepen tensions between Israel and its ally.
The defense minister's bureau said he is working to strengthen relations with the US, stressing that security cooperation is at the heart of Barak's efforts.
"Barak is attempting to lower tensions between Jerusalem and Washington and to fortify American support toward Israel's security", the statement added. "Barak's efforts have had a positive result, and he intends to continue with those efforts."
Israel, the defense minister's bureau continued, must safeguard its right to act according to its own decisions on vital issues relating to its security and future, apparently referring to the Iranian threat.
"This is the stance of both Barak and the government," it added.
With that, "we must not forget the importance of unique security and intelligence relations which have crystallized over the past five years in which Barak has served as defense minister," Barak's bureau emphasized. "These special relations contribute directly to Israel's security and interests."
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On dismissed the reported feud between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the defense minister, saying it is being "staged and coordinated ahead of the elections so Barak can run with the Independence Party as a pretense-opposition to Netanyahu, and with that take votes from the Center-Left bloc."
"However, right after the elections Barak will fall back into Netanyahu's arms, and crawl back to Netanyahu's government alongside [Labor leader Shelly] Yacimovich and [Yair] Lapid," Gal-On added.
Barak was said to have recently asked Netanyahu for a guarantee that he would be in his next government and when the prime minister refused to make such a commitment, Barak vowed to take revenge by opposing the budget.
Netanyahu told Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Tuesday that on a recent trip to the US, Barak exacerbated tensions between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama’s administration in order to be seen by the US as the savior of the peace process.
Coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) on Wednesday denied rumors that Barak was looking to secure a spot for himself in the Likud, or that the Likud would allow it. Speaking with Army Radio, Elkin said Barak's positions are different from the Likud's and that his place was not in the party.
Voices from the political spectrum responded Wednesday morning to the possibility of early elections.
In an interview with Army Radio, Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz called on Tzipi Livni, Haim Ramon and other party members to join him in his efforts to replace Netanyahu's government in possible early elections.
Mofaz said that "there is no question we are heading for elections. The goal is to have a unified alternative to Netanyahu."
Responding to claims that Kadima is fractured, the opposition leader called on former Kadima heavyweights Tzipi Livni and Haim Ramon, as well as other party members, to rally around him in order to "help replace Netanyahu's evil government that ate away every good thing."
Mofaz also noted it is still too early for former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who resigned following various charges of corruptions, to rejoin Kadima and return to politics.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.