Israel Gave U.S. Two-hour Notice on Iran Attack. CIA 'Demanded Answers'

New York Times reports that the attack at Iran's Natanz nuclear enrichment facility – for which Israel never took responsibility – reflected Netanyahu's distrust of the Biden administration

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A satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows the substantial damage done by an explosion and a fire at an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Iran's Natanz nuclear site, last year.
A satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows the substantial damage done by an explosion and a fire at an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Iran's Natanz nuclear site, last year.Credit: Planet Labs Inc. / AP

Israel gave the United States less than two hours’ warning of its plans to attack Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility in April, reflecting then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of keeping the Biden administration in the dark over Israeli actions in Iran, The New York Times reported Thursday citing American and Israeli sources.

Netanyahu reportedly adopted the policy because he distrusted the new administration of President Joe Biden, which had chosen to reverse Donald Trump’s policy and begin talks with Tehran about America’s reentering the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran.

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White House sources told The Times that Israel had at least in spirit violated an unwritten policy of many years’ standing to consult with the United States about operations like the one at Natanz and to enable Washington to express its opposition. The short notice Netanyahu gave before the Natanz operation deprived U.S. intelligence agencies of sufficient time to respond. Days after the attack, Washington said it had taken no part in the operation.

Israeli sources said they concealed information from their American colleagues because there had been leaks regarding earlier operations, a charge that American officials denied. Other sources in Jerusalem said the Biden administration had not been attentive to Israeli concerns over Iran and were too focused on reviving the nuclear deal.

Washington sources asserted that when Biden entered the White House, Netanyahu had reverted to his attitude toward the former administration of Barack Obama, whom he resented for signing an Iran nuclear accord that the Israeli prime minister resolutely opposed.

After the Natanz attack, CIA Director William Burns called the head of the Israeli Mossad espionage agency at the time, Yossi Cohen, to express concern over the snub, The Times reported. Cohen responded that the last-minute warning was due to operational constraints and uncertainty about when exactly it would take place. About two weeks later, Cohen visited Washington, where he met with Biden and Burns in what sources described as a warm reception.

The April 11 attack is said to have destroyed the Iranian uranium enrichment facility’s electrical system. Iranian and Western intelligence officials said Israel was behind the attack, but Israel didn’t take responsibility for it. Experts said the attack disrupted Iran’s nuclear project, mainly by delaying its ability to enrich uranium.

The attack occurred less than a week after the first talks got underway between U.S. and Iranian diplomats to bring the United States back into the 2015 nuclear deal. During the five months during which Biden and Netanyahu were in office at the same time, the two leaders never met. Naftali Bennett, who replaced Netanyahu as prime minister in June, is due to meet Biden on Thursday.

On his departure for Washington, Bennett said he was bringing “a new spirit of cooperation” to the meeting with Biden and that he intended to discuss Iran and initiatives to halt its nuclear ambitions. In remarks attributed to an unnamed source, it was said that the prime minister plans to present the president with an “orderly strategy” to deal with the threat posed by Tehran.

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