Israel: U.S. Will Know Before Any Iran Strike

Nuclear threat high on Netanyahu-Obama agenda; U.S. concerned Israel will undermine efforts to improve Iran ties.

Israel has acceded to American demands by pledging to coordinate its moves on Iran with Washington and not surprise the United States with military action.

During a trip to Jerusalem earlier this week, CIA chief Leon Panetta informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that U.S. President Barack Obama demanded that Israel not launch a surprise attack on Iran. The message expressed concern that Israel would cause an escalation in the region and undermine Obama's efforts to improve relations with Tehran.

However, the content was nothing new: The Bush administration also sent tough messages to Jerusalem a year ago, including a demand that it not strike Iran. Israeli officials believe that U.S. foreign policy professionals are vehemently opposed to an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, so this position was transmitted from the previous administration to the present one.

The U.S. expects Israel to coordinate its military actions with Washington, a condition to which Jerusalem has agreed due to its dependence on U.S. aid. Senior officials in the Bush administration testified to Congress that Israel had consulted them before deciding on its 2007 air strike on an alleged Syrian nuclear reactor. They said Israel had explained that it considered the Syrian project an existential threat and therefore had to act.

In his first trip to Israel as CIA chief, about three weeks ago, Panetta met with Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Mossad chief Meir Dagan. Panetta was White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton in 1994-97. In this capacity, he and his president weathered a stormy phase of the peace process, the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres' brief term of office and the advent of the first Netanyahu government. During those years, Clinton visited Israel three times, so Panetta got to know the Israeli leadership.

In the Senate confirmation hearing for his appointment as CIA chief, Panetta said he has no doubt Iran is working toward nuclear weapons capability. Since taking office, Panetta has also visited India and Pakistan, due to the serious domestic crisis in Islamabad and the growing threat to its regime.

The Iranian threat will play a central role in Netanyahu's talks with Obama, Congress and senior U.S. officials during his visit to Washington next week. After the premier returns, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will head to Washington for his first visit. Lieberman will head the strategic dialogue between the U.S. and Israel, which will focus on Iran.