'Israel Hesitant to Seek U.S. Okay to Strike Iran'

Washington Times: Netanyahu fearful Obama administration would reject official request for approval.

Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told The Washington Times that the premier is hesitant to request formal U.S. approval to launch military operations against Iran for fear that Washington would turn him down, according to a report which appeared in Tuesday editions.

The sources said the Israeli leader feels there is no point in seeking American acquiescence at this stage given President Barack Obama's stated intention to pursue a policy of diplomatic engagement with the Tehran regime, The Washington Times reported.

"There was a decision not to press [for U.S. approval of a strike] because it was probably inadequate for the engagement policy and what we know about Obama's approach to Iran," a senior Israeli official told The Washington Times.

The report said that although Israel has concluded that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat, it has refrained from attacking in deference to vital American interests in the region.

The Israeli government said it supported the new administration's efforts to pursue diplomacy in a bid to halt Iran's nuclear program, though it has warned that talks will fail unless the West sets a firm deadline for Iranian compliance.

In the latter stages of the previous U.S. administration, Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, requested that Washington provide Israel will bunker-busting bombs widely believed to be intended for use in an attack on Iran's nuclear installations, according to The New York Times. That request was rebuffed by George W. Bush.

Citing U.S. and foreign officials, the Times reported the White House was unable to determine whether Israel had decided to carry out the strike before Washington objected or whether Olmert was trying to get Bush to act more decisively before he leaves office this month.

The Washington Times report comes days after Vice President Joe Biden told ABC television that "Israel can determine for itself - it's a sovereign nation - what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else."

The State Department sought to clarify the implications of Biden's statement, saying that the vice president's remarks should not be construed as an American "green light" for an Israeli strike on Iran.

"We are certainly not going to give a green light to any kind of military strike, but Israel is a sovereign country and we're not going to dictate its actions," State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly said on Monday.

"We share the Israelis' deep concerns about Iran's nuclear program," Kelly said. "But you have to ask Israel if they are going to make a strike."

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Monday welcomed Biden's statement, calling it "logical."

But other Israeli leaders avoided comment, a low-key reaction that suggested Israel did not see Biden's comments as a green light to strike Iran. Obama underlined that diplomacy with Iran remains an option.