Israeli officials say they will not warn the US if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, a US intelligence official familiar with the discussions said.
The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and Capitol Hill.
Israeli officials said that if they eventually decided a strike was necessary, they would keep the Americans in the dark to decrease the likelihood that the US would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel’s potential attack. The US has been working with the Israelis for months to persuade them that an attack would be only a temporary setback to Iran’s nuclear program.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of top-level US visitors to the country, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, and top US lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the US over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the US official said on condition of anonymity.
The White House, the Pentagon, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Israeli embassy declined to comment.
Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the International Atomic Energy Agency has raised alarms that its uranium enrichment program might be a precursor to building nuclear weapons. The US has said it does not know whether Tehran has decided to weaponize its nuclear material and put it on a missile or other delivery device.
The secret warning is likely to worry US officials and begin the high-level meetings with Israel and the US far apart on how to handle Iran.
However, the apparent decision to keep the US in the dark also stems from Israel’s frustration with the White House. After a visit by US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, in particular, Israel became convinced the US would neither take military action, nor go along with unilateral action by Israel against Iran. The Israelis concluded they would have to conduct a strike unilaterally — a point they are likely to hammer home in a series of meetings over the next two weeks in Washington, the official said.
Barak will meet with top administration and congressional officials during his visit. Netanyahu arrives in Washington for meetings with US President Barack Obama next week.