As more and more US officials publicly call on Israel not to attack Iran at this time, Defense Minister Ehud Barak emerged from a two-hour meeting Monday with visiting US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon saying sovereign nations act based on their own perception of their interests.The US-Israel relationship, Barak said at a meeting of his Independence faction shortly after hosting Donilon, is a relationship between “two sovereign countries, each one responsible in the final analysis for the decisions it takes for itself and about its future.”Barak’s comments came amid a wave of reports citing unconfirmed sources saying that the US – including Donilon – is pressing Israel to give more time for international sanctions to work before taking military action against Iran.Barak gave little indication of friction with the US over the issue, saying the discussions with Donilon covered a wide range of issues, and that the security relationship between Israel and the US was excellent. He added that the relationship was unique it its “openness, mutual respect, understanding, attentiveness, and knowledge that at the end of the day we are talking about two very friendly countries with a very long and deep connection, that has deepened during the current administration.”The White House put out a statement after the meeting saying that Donilon concluded three days of talks in Israel that “addressed the full range of security issues of mutual concern.”“The visit is part of the continuous and intensive dialogue between the United States and Israel and reflects our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security,” the statement said, adding that Donilon confirmed a meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama for March 5.Even before that meeting, which is expected to focus primarily on the Iranian issue, James R. Clapper, Washington’s director of national intelligence, is expected to come to Jerusalem at the end of the week for further talks with Israeli officials about Iran. Clapper serves as the head of the US intelligence community, acting as the principle advisor to the president, National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council for intelligence matters related to the national security.Before going to Washington, where he will also address the annual AIPAC policy conference, Netanyahu will go to Ottawa and meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.The flurry of high-level USIsraeli consultations comes even as significant US officials are publicly saying this is not the time for an Israeli strike on Iran.The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Army General Martin Dempsey, said in a CNN interview on Sunday that an Israeli attack on Iran would be “destabilizing” and “not prudent” at this point.Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor stressed to reporters Monday that Dempsey said an attack was not prudent “at this point.”“He said it is not prudent now, but does that mean later?” Meridor asked.Meridor said the sanctions regime had been toughened to the point of causing “hysteria” in Iran.“All this shows the pressure which this regime is under, but they have not yet decided to shut down their nuclear effort, so the struggle is on,” he said. “I think there is a chance of success [for sanctions] if they are done with determination, persistence and leadership.”
On Monday, Joe Cirincione, of the State Departments International Security Advisory Board that provides the State Department with independent advice on security and diplomatic issues, told CBS that it was uncertain whether an Israeli attack “would do enough damage to actually do much more than delay the program for a year or so.”Cirincione said a strike would not bring about a quick end to this crisis; it would be the beginning of either a larger war or a long-scale, large-scale containment effort to try to stop Iran from what they would undoubtedly do, which would be race to build a bomb. During this period, he warned, oil prices would rise to $200, or even $300 a barrel, which would have severe “repercussions on an already fragile global economy.”Not only American officials were carrying this message.On Sunday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague publicly called on Israel to give the sanctions more time, saying that “Israel, like everyone else in the world, should be giving a real chance to the approach we adopted: very serious economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure, and the readiness to negotiate with Iran.Meanwhile, senior UN inspectors arrived in Iran on Monday to push for transparency, a day after Tehran responded defiantly to tightened EU sanctions by halting oil sales to British and French companies.The five-member team from the International Atomic Energy Agency, led by its Global Inspectorate chief Herman Nackaerts, planned two days of meetings in another effort to extract answers from Iran regarding its nuclear program.Nackaerts said on departure from Vienna that he wanted “concrete results” from the talks. His delegation was expected to seek, among other things, to question Iranian nuclear scientists and visit the Parchin military base believed to have been used for highexplosive tests relevant to nuclear warheads.But Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi dampened speculation about such visits when he told the student news agency ISNA that the IAEA officials would not be going to any nuclear sites. “No. Their work has just begun,” Salehi said.Meanwhile, diplomats doubted the talks would bring a breakthrough.“I believe most are rather skeptical concerning the outcome because, well, Iran had a chance at the last meeting and didn’t seize it,” a senior Western official said, referring to the last trip by the senior IAEA team to Tehran at the end of January.Referring to last week’s announcements by Iran of new nuclear advances, he said: “They send out the wrong signals that Iran is really willing to cooperate... We will wait and see what will come out of this meeting, but we should be prepared that Iran might try some technical steps... to appear cooperative without really providing the necessary cooperation.”The European Union enraged Tehran last month when it decided to slap a boycott on its oil from July 1.Iran, the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the main Gulf oil shipping lane, in retaliation and the United States signaled it would use force to keep it open.The spiking tension has put upward pressure on oil prices.On Sunday, Iran’s Oil Ministry announced that it stopped selling oil to French and British companies, although the move will be largely symbolic as those firms had already greatly reduced purchases of Iranian crude.Deputy Oil Minister Ahmad Qalebani suggested the Western crackdown would backfire, saying that in targeting Iranian oil the West had achieved only a surge in crude prices from $103 a barrel to $120, “and it will reach $150.”Reuters contributed to this report.