JERUSALEM — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak flew to Washington on May 15 for the third time in as many months, as world powers prepared for fresh talks with Iran about its nuclear program.
“Defense Minister Ehud Barak departed this morning for a working visit to the United States,” a statement from his office said. “During the visit Defense Minister Barak will meet his counterpart Secretary of State Leon Panetta and other senior administration officials.”
The two last met April 19 for talks the Pentagon said focused on Iran, Syria and the effects of the Arab Spring on the Middle East.
Israel’s Haaretz daily said the latest meeting would, among other issues, finalize an expected U.S. announcement of an extra $680 million (530 million euros) in aid to Israel to help finance production and deployment of more batteries of its Iron Dome antimissile system.
Three batteries of the sophisticated system deployed in southern Israel performed successfully during a rocket barrage by Gaza militants in March, and Barak has said he intends to extend it throughout the country.
The system, the first of its kind in the world, was developed by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems with the help of U.S. funding.
The United States spent $204 million (159 million euros) on Iron Dome last year.
Israel and the United States say Iran’s nuclear energy program masks an effort to develop nuclear weapons, but the allies disagree on how imminent the threat is. Tehran denies such intentions.
U.S. officials have warned against a potential Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran, and analysts have predicted Tehran would retaliate against Israeli and U.S. targets, with pro-Iranian Hezbollah militants possibly launching rocket attacks against Israel.
Iran and the P5+1 — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany — held their first talks in 15 months in Istanbul in mid-April and agreed to more in-depth discussions in Baghdad on May 23.