JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his ministers not to speak publicly about Iran, officials said Friday, in an apparent attempt at damage control before his trip to the White House next week.
The officials spoke a day after Defense Minister Ehud Barak had given a lengthy television interview in which he talked repeatedly about the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear drive, discussed Israel’s military options, and declared that Israel could not afford to entrust its security in the face of the Iranian danger even to “the best of our friends” — a presumed reference to differences with the US over how to grapple with the Islamic Republic.
President Shimon Peres, who will also be flying to the US for White House talks next week, had also chimed in on the Iran issue Thursday, describing a nuclear Iran as “a catastrophe” and telling visiting US Jewish leaders that when Israel says “all options are on the table, we really mean it.”
Netanyahu is set to visit Washington in early March, where he is expected to discuss the floundering peace process with the Palestinians, as well as Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel and the U.S. both believe Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons, but the U.S. has recently become more vocal about its opposition to an Israeli attack in the near future.
The Prime Minister’s bureau sent text messages this week to cabinet ministers, asking them to keep quiet about Iran unless they had his express permission, an Israeli official said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, the official said Netanyahu made such requests “about 10 times” in the past few years, following reports of assassinations of Iranian scientists and other apparent attacks on Iran’s nuclear research facilities. Many of those incidents are largely believed to be the work of Israeli agents.
Israeli Information Minister Yuli Edelstein said Netanyahu had previously told ministers in his Likud faction that “there is too much fuss and talk about (Iran) and that he would very much appreciate if ministers wouldn’t express themes on the subject.”
Israel views Iran as an existential threat, citing frequent Iranian calls for Israel’s destruction, its support for violent anti-Israel militant groups and its long range missile program.