Israeli officials say they won't warn the United States if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, according to one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions. The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and Capitol Hill.
Israeli officials said that if they eventually decide a strike is necessary, they would keep the Americans in the dark to decrease the likelihood that the United States would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel's potential attack. The United States has been working with the Israelis for months to persuade them that an attack would be only a temporary setback to Iran's nuclear program.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of top-level U.S. visitors to the country, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, and top U.S. lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the United States over how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Netanyahu delivered the same message to all the Americans who have traveled to Israel for talks, the U.S. official said.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the International Atomic Energy Agency has raised alarms that its uranium enrichment program might be a precursor to building nuclear weapons. The U.S. said it does not know whether Iran's government has decided to make weapons from its nuclear material and put them on a missile or other delivery device.
The secret warning is likely to worry U.S. officials and begin the high-level meetings, with Israel and the United States far apart on how to handle Iran.
The apparent decision to keep the United States in the dark also stems from Israel's frustration with the White House. After a visit by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in particular, the Israelis became convinced the Americans would neither take military action nor go along with unilateral action by Israel against Iran.
The Israelis concluded they would have to conduct a strike unilaterally -- a point they are likely to hammer home in a series of meetings over the next two weeks in Washington, the U.S. official said.
Barak will meet with top administration and congressional officials during his visit. Netanyahu arrives in Washington for meetings with President Obama next week.
The behind-the-scenes warning belies the publicly united front the two sides have attempted to craft with the shuttle diplomacy to each other's capitals.
"I got the sense that Israel is incredibly serious about a strike on [Iran's] nuclear weapons program," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., told CNN Monday. "It's their calculus that the administration is not serious about a real military consequence to Iran moving forward.
"They believe they're going to have to make a decision on their own, given the current posture of the United States."