By DAVID BEDEIN, Middle East Correspondent
Friday, March 05, 2010

JERUSALEM — The intelligence communities of Israel and the United States differ over Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons.

“I think that beyond that there is, of course, a certain difference in perspective and difference in judgment, difference in the internal clocks and difference in capabilities,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.

In a Feb. 26 address to the Washington Institute, Mr. Barak acknowledged that Israel and the United States might not bridge their differences over Iran’s capabilities. He said the U.S. objections to Israel’s assessment should not block any campaign against Tehran’s nuclear program.

“And I don’t think that there is a need to coordinate in this regard,” Mr. Barak said. “That should be understood. It should be an exchange of views. We do not need to coordinate every step.”

The statement marked a rare occasion that Mr. Barak, regarded as the most U.S.-oriented member of the Israeli Cabinet, played down the need to coordinate with the administration of President Barack Obama. Mr. Barak, however, stressed that Israel supported Mr. Obama’s policy to employ diplomacy rather than military means against Iran.

“We clearly support the attempt to solve it through diplomacy,” Mr. Barak said.

The Israeli government has been pressing the U.S.administration for a timetable for harsh U.S. sanctions on Tehran, beginning with a gasoline embargo that would spark critical fuel shortages in Iran.

Instead, Washington has moved cautiously in efforts to draft sanctions against Iran. The State Department has ruled out significant measures against Iran’s energy sector.

For his part, Mr. Barak did not rule out the prospect that Iran could develop what he termed “second or second-and-a-half generation of nuclear warheads.” He said these warheads could be installed on ballistic missiles that could reach Moscow or Paris.

“If Iran will not be stopped from moving there, it will reach a certain point of nuclear military capability, and one can close his eyes and see what it means,” Mr. Barak said. “What is really needed is significant sanctions, effective ones with a time limit, together with the Russians and the Chinese