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Top US officer visits Israel amid rift over whether to attack Iran

Oak Besson / Israeli Defense Ministry via EPA

A photograph supplied by the Israeli Defense Ministry shows Admiral James Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (left), and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

JERUSALEM - A top U.S. officer visited Israel's defense minister on Thursday and discussed Iran, in a display of solidarity after the two allies differed publicly over what they fear is Tehran's drive toward nuclear weapons capability.

The vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral James Winnefeld smiled broadly, exchanging pleasantries with Ehud Barak in his office in Tel Aviv in a brief video released by the Israeli Defense Ministry.

Barak later said that they had "discussed regional issues and Iran, of course."

The visit comes after General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dismayed Israeli officials by saying that Washington did not want to be "complicit" in an Israeli attack on Iran.


Dempsey's comments were seen as a rebuke to Israel stepping up threats of making a unilateral strike against Iran's nuclear facilities before the U.S. presidential election on November 6.

John Batchelor, The John Batchelor Show host, weighs in on reports that Israel could possibly attack Iran before the November elections.

Washington has urged Israel to hold off in order to give economic sanctions and diplomacy more time to curb Iran's uranium enrichment, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes.

Israeli protesters warn against war as government appears to prep Iran strikes

"The challenge is shared by us both but our clocks are ticking at a different pace, we have our differences too, Israel retains its right to make sovereign decisions and the United States respects that," Barak said at a ceremony in Tel Aviv.

New Iranian missiles have been put on display in Tehran - an exhibition that appears to be a warning to Israel. President Ahmadinejad says the short range missiles are meant for defense, not attack. But in Israel people are watching warily. NBC's John Ray reports.

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv had no comment on Winnefeld's visit, which Israeli Army Radio said began several days ago and included an inspection of Israel's Iron Dome rocket interception system, jointly funded by the United States.

Panetta seeks another $70M for Israel's 'Iron Dome' rocket shield

In its press release, the Defense Ministry also included photographs of Winnefeld and Barak each appearing to measure, with their thumbs and index fingers, the size of Israel on a map of the Middle East on a wall in Barak's office.

On Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the West of launching an "all-out ... war" by imposing oil and banking sanctions on his country.

Sanctions have taken a toll on the Iranian economy. The government is reluctant to admit it. Inflation is high. The number of young unemployed is a growing concern. NBC's Ali Arouzi reports. 

Ahmadinejad said the banking embargo has affected Iran's ability to supply basic needs such as meat.

Ahmadinejad also repeated his previous statements that Iran is a friend to the American people and other nations — except Israel.

"We have no argument with Americans. We like them like other nations," said Ahmadinejad. He said "ruling groups" in the U.S. have worked against relations with Iran, an apparent reference to the pro-Israel lobby.

More Iran coverage from NBCNews.com

The remarks preceded Ahmadinejad's trip to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly later this month.

The U.S. and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since hardliners stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held hostages there for more than a year, after Iran's Islamic Revolution that ousted a pro-Western monarchy.

At schools, in shops, and on the streets of big cities and small towns, daily life plays out in Iran.

Netanyahu 'at wit's end'
Meanwhile, a Republican congressman said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blew up at the U.S. ambassador last month because he was "at wit's end" over what he sees as the Obama administration's lack of clarity on Iran's nuclear program.

NYT sources: Iran aids Syria military via Iraqi airspace

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers made his first public comments about the late August meeting in Israel in an interview with Michigan's WJR radio on Tuesday.

His disclosure came only hours before President Barack Obama appeared at the Democratic National Convention to accept the party's nomination as its candidate in the November election, in which the level of the Obama administration's support for Israel has become a contentious topic.

Dem official: Arab-Americans 'got punched' over Jerusalem switch

"Right now the Israelis don't believe that this administration is serious when they say all options are on the table, and more importantly neither do the Iranians. That's why the program is progressing," Rogers said.

The State Department had no immediate comment. A spokesman for Israel's embassy in Washington declined to comment.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says "all options," including military force, are on the table to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons. Watch his entire speech in Israel.

In an interview with an Israeli television station on Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro dismissed an Israeli newspaper account of the heated closed-door exchange as "a very silly story" that did not reflect what actually happened in the meeting where the conversations were "friendly and professional." Netanyahu has not commented on the exchange, which was first reported by the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

More Israel coverage from NBCNews.com

Israel has its own undeclared nuclear arsenal that is believed to contain as many as 200 warheads.

Speaking in Jerusalem in July, Mitt Romney says preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons "must be our highest national security priority." Watch his entire speech.

Rogers said the Israeli and U.S. timelines differed on how quickly Iran could put a nuclear weapon on a missile, if it decided to move in that direction.

Ex-Israeli intelligence chief speaks out on Iran strikes

Netanyahu believes "if they decide to do the dash it could be four weeks to eight weeks," while U.S. intelligence analysts believe it would "take a little longer than that," Rogers said. "But the problem is nobody really knows for sure."

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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