Israel violated Iranian airspace in 2012 in what U.S. officials interpreted as a dry run for a strike on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
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According to the Journal’s extensive report, which chronicled the frosting ties between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the United States had “closely monitored Israel’s military bases and eavesdropped on secret communications” during 2012, fearing that Israel was planning an attack on the Fordo nuclear site in Iran.
The report paints an image of two long-term allies increasingly suspicious of each other, keeping their own secrets and launching covert activities. It described how, although Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, and the CIA worked together on ground level projects, there was no cooperation on bigger strikes.
"Mossad leaders compared the covert campaign to a 10-floor building: The higher the floor, they said, the more invasive the operation," the Journal reported. "CIA and Mossad worked together on operations on the lower floors. But the Americans made clear they had no interest in moving higher—Israeli proposals to bring down Iran’s financial system, for example, or even its regime."
According to the report, “[n]erves frayed at the White House” when the United States discovered Israeli air activity over Iran, and Washington dispatched an aircraft carrier to the Mideast and also prepared attack aircraft, in case, as one senior American official told the Journal, “all hell broke loose.”
An Israeli plan to attack the heavily fortified Fordo from the inside was deemed to be a “suicide mission” by the United States, which refused to sell Israel the materiel it felt was needed to carry out the strike, the Journal reported.
U.S. officials, according to the Journal, believed that Israel was serious about striking Iran and the Obama administration stepped up surveillance of Israeli air activity. Israel was found to be practicing “strike missions” and undetected flyovers in Iran.
Relations between Jerusalem and Washington had begun to deteriorate by then. Obama and Netanyahu found themselves further and further apart by 2009, once they had both taken office. Netanyahu had been told by Republican lawmakers that Obama was “pro-Arab,” the journal reported, quoting unnamed Israeli officials. Those conversations had subsequently reached the White House.
As a result, the newspaper said, the president took steps to reassure Israel, including an expansion of existing joint covert operations against Iran and increased cooperation between the CIA and the Mossad.
The ties began to significantly deteriorate following a May 2009 meeting between the two leaders at the White House, after which Netanyahu began briefing reporters without first coordinating with the U.S. administration.
Amid growing mistrust, Washington decided to keep Jerusalem in the dark about the secret negotiations with Iran, according to the Journal. It also convinced Washington that a diplomatic solution was urgently needed.