We won't give US advance warning of Iran strike, says Israel

Message on military action against nuclear facilities strains relations between allies

Jerusalem

Relations between Israel and its staunchest ally, the United States, appear increasingly strained after Israeli officials said they would not give Washington any advance warning of a decision to strike Iran's nuclear facilities, according to US intelligence sources.

Israel's message was conveyed during recent high-level talks with Pentagon officials and is apparently aimed at absolving Washington of blame for failing to prevent an Israeli strike, the Associated Press reported, citing an anonymous US intelligence source. Israeli officials declined to comment on the report.

Far from allowing Washington a veneer of deniability, however, the claims seem likely to drive a deeper wedge between the two countries at a time of deep frustration in Washington over Israel's hawkish intentions towards Iran, which many fear could draw the US into a prolonged Middle East war.

Many believe that Israel is preparing for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities this year, prompting the Obama administration to warn that an Israeli aerial strike would set back Iran's nuclear programme by one or two years at most.

Iran has denied claims that it is pursuing a nuclear-weapons programme – to widespread scepticism in the West. Nevertheless, officials in Washington believe that Tehran has not yet made the decision to build the bomb.

Israel's hawkish premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, is scheduled to meet Barack Obama at the White House next Monday, where Iran is expected to dominate talks. The US President is expected to press Israel to allow more time for new sanctions on Iran's central bank and energy industry to take effect.

The meeting between the two men – whose working relationship has at times bordered on hostile – follows a series of trips by Pentagon officials to Israel in an effort to persuade the Israelis to refrain from using force.

Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, has warned that such appeals "play into Iran's hands", according to Israel's Haaretz newspaper. At a recent forum he said it might soon be too late to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions, warning that the regime is on the verge of moving its nuclear facilities into underground bunkers, safe from bombardment.

But some believe that Israel's threats of a strike are mere posturing, designed to goad the West into taking tougher measures against the regime. Mounting an attack would pose considerable operational difficulties for Israel, unlike the US, which has aircraft carriers stationed nearby, and warplanes in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, a US politician, who met Israeli officials in Jerusalem last week, said he believed that Israel remained committed to taking military action against Iran, even without America's approval. "I got the sense that Israel is incredibly serious about a strike on their nuclear-weapons programme," Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN on Monday.

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