The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has accused Ehud Barak, his Defence Minister and closest ally on dealing with Iran, of exacerbating fraught relations with the US to position himself as a moderate "saviour", Israel's Channel 2 television has reported.
The unprecedented criticism suggests a growing rift between Mr Netanyahu and his close confidant, who was until recently a leading cheerleader for an early pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. "He [Mr Barak] travelled to the US to stoke the conflict between us and the Americans in order to come off as the saviour – the moderate party that reconciles between the sides," Mr Netanyahu said during a meeting with his Finance Minister, according to a source.
The Defence Minister hit back yesterday, saying it was important not to "compromise US support with steps that show Israel as aligning itself with one side in US politics," the Ynet news website quoted him as saying. His comments referred to Washington's anger at Mr Netanyahu's apparent support for the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.
The premier's attack is being viewed as a signal that he is on the verge of calling early elections amid a deadlock over an austerity budget. Mr Barak, a former Prime Minister, has distanced himself from Mr Netanyahu in recent weeks in what analysts say is an effort to carve out a more centrist image for himself.
But the row could have an impact on Mr Netanyahu's Iranian strategy, robbing him of the support he needs to take military action against Iran.
In a reversal of his earlier staunch support for such an attack, Mr Barak has reportedly opposed unilateral action on the eve of US elections. Combined with pressure from the Obama administration, Mr Netanyahu signalled in a speech to the UN last week that a unilateral strike is off the cards for now.