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U.S., Israeli Officials Blast Media Reports Claiming Obama-Netanyahu Rift

JERUSALEM – White House and Israeli government officials criticized Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper for publishing what they described as two patently false stories during the past week.

The paper alleged that the relationship between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama has significantly deteriorated over the issue of a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Yediot Aharonot reported in a front-page story that U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro reprimanded Netanyahu in a private conversation – saying “enough is enough” regarding ongoing Israeli warnings about a preemptive strike – while the White House asked Iranian officials not to attack American installations in the Persian Gulf region if the IDF launches a preventive strike against Iran.

On Monday White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Yediot’s report that the Obama administration had secretly negotiated with Iranian officials about keeping the U.S. out of any armed conflict between Israel and Iran was “false and completely incorrect.” Carney told the Reuters news agency, “We don’t talk about hypotheticals.”

Yediot Aharonot’s publisher, Arnon Mozes, who also controls a substantial share of Israel’s Channel 2 TV network, has made no secret of his antipathy toward Netanyahu. This became evident after American business mogul and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson launched the pro-government Yisrael Hayom in 2007. That free daily paper has overtaken Yediot in circulation.

In an attempt to buttress Yediot’s story about the alleged verbal spat between Netanyahu and Shapiro, Channel 2 News anchorwoman Yonit Levi interviewed Shapiro. When pressed about the alleged verbal row, Shapiro smiled and pointedly told Levy, “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it never happened.” The ambassador also said that he had a positive relationship with Netanyahu and that the White House and the Israeli government are constantly updating each other and coordinating their efforts regarding the Iranian nuclear issue.

Earlier this week Netanyahu publicly called on the world’s powers, including the U.S. and EU, to delineate a clear “red line” to the Iranian regime, whereby the Iranians would understand that it would suffer devastating consequences if they continued to enrich uranium as part of their effort to build a nuclear bomb. Within the past month, Israeli intelligence officials have informed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that Iran would have enough enriched uranium by early 2013 to build a nuclear bomb.

Reflecting on the debate of whether Israel should bomb Iran, with or without American support, veteran Israeli TV news anchorman and Yisrael Hayom columnist Dan Margalit wrote in Monday’s edition, “As an ordinary citizen, I do not know which opinion to express. Both sides make convincing arguments, and only someone who has all the information can make a decision. But it is also clear to the ordinary citizen that Israel has been forced to spill its hidden secrets in the city square, a process started by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s ‘freak show,’ so the question must be considered as it is.”

Margalit added, “The choice is not between an Israeli attack or international action, but rather between these two possibilities and a third option: the acceptance of a nuclear Iran. Opponents of Netanyahu and [Defense Minister] Ehud Barak are hiding their support for this option.”

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