U.S. President Barack Obama has sent a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding that Israel not surprise the U.S. with an Israeli military operation against Iran. The message was conveyed by a senior American official who met in Israel with Netanyahu, ministers and other senior officials. Earlier, Netanyahu's envoy visited Washington and met with National Security Adviser James Jones and with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and discussed the dialogue Obama has initiated with Tehran.
The message from the American envoy to the prime minister reveals U.S. concern that Israel could lose patience and act against Iran. It is important to the Americans that they not be caught off guard and find themselves facing facts on the ground at the last minute.
Obama did not wait for his White House meeting with Netanyahu, scheduled for next Monday, to deliver his message, but rather sent it ahead of time with his envoy.
It may be assumed that Obama is disturbed by the positions Netanyahu expressed before his election vis-a-vis Tehran - for example, Netanyahu's statement that "If elected I pledge that Iran will not attain nuclear arms, and that includes whatever is necessary for this statement to be carried out." After taking office, on Holocaust Memorial Day Netanyahu said: "We will not allow Holocaust-deniers to carry out another holocaust."
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak do not oppose American dialogue with Tehran, but they believe it should be conducted within a limited window of time, making it clear to Iran that if it does not stop its nuclear program, severe sanctions will be imposed and other alternatives will be considered.
The American concern that Israel will attack Iran came up as early as last year, while president George W. Bush was still in office. As first reported in Haaretz, former prime minister Ehud Olmert and Barak made a number of requests from Bush during the latter's visit to Jerusalem, which were interpreted as preparations for an aerial attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly did not directly address the question of the U.S.'s official stance on an Israeli attack, but said Thursday that "we believe that the multilateral track with Iran is the right way to go."
"Our goal is to make them abandon their nuclear program in a verifiable way, and we will continue with this track. We decided that we want to let Iran get back to the table, to engage them, because the previous approach of isolating Iran didn?t work. But we don?t have a clear timetable," he said.
Following the Bush visit to Jerusalem, about a year ago the previous administration sent two senior envoys, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, and the former U.S. national intelligence chief Mike McConnell to demand that Israel not attack Iran.
The previous administration also gave the message greater weight through Mullen's public statement that an Israeli attack on Iran would endanger the entire region. Since that statement, Mullen has met a number of times with his Israeli counterpart, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
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