Israel has refused to reassure President Barack Obama that it would warn him in advance of any pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, raising fears that it may be planning a go-it-alone attack as early as next summer.
UK TELEGRAPH The US leader was rebuffed last month when he demanded private guarantees that no strike would go ahead without White House notification, suggesting Israel no longer plans to “seek Washington’s permission”, sources said. The disclosure, made by insiders briefed on a top-secret meeting between America’s most senior defence chief and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s hawkish prime minister, comes amid concerns that Iran’s continuing progress towards nuclear weapons capability means the Jewish state has all but lost hope for a diplomatic solution.
On Tuesday, UN weapons inspectors released their most damning report to date into Iran’s nuclear activities, saying for the first time that the Islamic republic appeared to be building a nuclear weapon. It was with that grave possiblity in mind that Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, flew into Israel last month on what was ostensibly a routine trip.
Officially, his brief was restricted to the Middle East peace process, but the most important part of his mission was a private meeting with Mr Netanyahu and the defence minister, Ehud Barak. Once all but a handful of trusted staff had left the room, Mr Panetta conveyed an urgent message from Barack Obama. The president, Mr Panetta said, wanted an unshakable guarantee that Israel would not carry out a unilateral military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations without first seeking Washington’s clearance.
“They did not suggest that military action was being planned or was imminent, but neither did they give any assurances that Israel would first seek Washington’s permission, or even inform the White House in advance that a mission was underway,” one said.
Alarmed by Mr Netanyahu’s noncommittal response, Mr Obama reportedly ordered the US intelligence services to step up monitoring of Israel to glean clues of its intentions.
Tellingly, until last year, Israel’s four most powerful military and security chiefs, including Mr Dagan, were all strongly opposed to military action. All four have now been replaced by younger men who may be less able to stand up to Mr Netanyahu, not that Israeli prime ministers are necessarily bound to heed objections from their top military advisers anyway. In 1981, Menachem Begin did just that when he bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak.
In Mr Netanyahu’s eyes, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is another “Hitler” whose aim is to complete what the Holocaust failed to do by wiping out the Jewish race.
“People outside Israel don’t understand how profound memories of the Holocaust are, and how they affect future policy making,” said Mr Bergman, the military analyst. “At the end of the day, this policy of ‘never again’ would dictate Israel’s behaviour when intelligence comes through that Iran has come close to a bomb.”