Mossad chief Tamir Pardo - Moti Milrod - 14022012
Mossad chief Tamir Pardo. Photo by Moti Milrod
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Mossad head Tamir Pardo's visit to Washington around two weeks ago was meant to evaluate how the United States would react if Israel decided to attack Iran's nuclear facilities on its own, Newsweek magazine reports this week.

A senior American official quoted in the story said that Pardo had come to Washington to "check the pulse" of the Obama administration and to ascertain the degree to which Washington opposes an Israeli strike.

According to the report, Pardo posed a number of questions during his talks with senior administration officials, including: What military preparations are being made with regard to Iran? Is America willing to attack Iran? What would be the significance of Israel doing so on its own?

Pardo's visit was exposed last month by Haaretz after top U.S. officials, during a public hearing in the Senate, mentioned having met him earlier that week in Washington. The Senate hearing was broadcast live on American television.

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Israel has also asked President Barak Obama several times for guarantees that if sanctions against Iran do not work, the United States would attack its nuclear facilities, but to date the administration has made no such commitment, the report said.

According to the report, Obama's refusal to offer these assurances was what led Israel to formulate its current position - refusing to promise restraint in anything regarding Iran or to necessarily inform the United States of a pending attack in advance.

The Newsweek story states that during the second half of 2011, Israel stopped sharing its plans regarding Iran with Washington. Between July and October, the report said, U.S. officials were in "a black hole" with regard to Israel's activities.

The reason, the article says, was Israel's anger over Obama's speech in May 2011 in which he called on Israel to conduct negotiations with the Palestinians based on the 1967 lines.

But the Americans played the withholding game as well. Senior U.S. defense officials quoted by Newsweek said there were disagreements between Israel and the United States over the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. The Americans took pains to make sure that intelligence information they were passing to Israel could not be used to plan assassinations, which are against U.S. law.

"We were always careful about what we said to the Israelis, and they knew why," a Defense Department official told Newsweek. "We hid things like satellite photographs and other types of intelligence."

Though America refused to take part in these attacks, it did act against nuclear facilities, sometimes alone and sometimes with Israel, the report said.

The report also revealed that when Obama took office in 2009, senior U.S. intelligence officials feared that he was about to stop all clandestine activity against Iran so as not to derail his efforts to engage Tehran in a dialogue. At issue were actions aimed at slowing Iran's nuclear progress, such as supplying defective parts to the uranium enrichment stations, introducing viruses to Iranian computer systems, and more.

Shortly after he assumed office, Obama met with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright and CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappas, who both asked Obama permission to continue the covert activities. In the end, the president decided to allow the secret activities to continue parallel to the dialogue attempt, in an effort to buy time for diplomacy to work.