Israel refuses to tell US its Iran intentions
Israel has refused to reassure President Barack Obama that it would warn him in advance of any pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear capabilities, raising fears that it may be planning a go-it-alone attack as early as next summer.
The US leader was rebuffed last month when he demanded private guarantees that no strike would go ahead without White House notification, suggesting Israel no longer plans to "seek Washington's permission", sources said.
The disclosure, made by insiders briefed on a top-secret meeting between America's most senior defence chief and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's hawkish prime minister, comes amid concerns that Iran's continuing progress towards nuclear weapons capability means the Jewish state has all but lost hope for a diplomatic solution
Officially, his brief was restricted to the Middle East peace process, but the most important part of his mission was a private meeting with Mr Netanyahu and the defence minister, Ehud Barak. Once all but a handful of trusted staff had left the room, Mr Panetta conveyed an urgent message from Barack Obama.
The president, Mr Panetta said, wanted an unshakable guarantee that Israel would not carry out a unilateral military strike against Iran's nuclear installations without first seeking Washington's clearance.
The two Israelis were notably evasive in their response, according to sources both in Israel and the United States.
"They did not suggest that military action was being planned or was imminent, but neither did they give any assurances that Israel would first seek Washington's permission, or even inform the White House in advance that a mission was underway," one said.
This shouldn't be a huge surprise - what reason has the U.S. given Israel that they should be involved.
Alarmed by Mr Netanyahu's noncommittal response, Mr Obama reportedly ordered the US intelligence services to step up monitoring of Israel to glean clues of its intentions.
What those intentions might be remains distinctly murky. Over the past fortnight, Israel's press has given every impression that the country is on a war footing, with numerous claims that Mr Netanyahu and Mr Barak are lobbying the cabinet to support the military option.
Speculation about an imminent Israeli military action has been a regular occurrence over the years, but rarely as fevered as now. Last week, a British official even suggested that an attack could come before Christmas.
If Israel is to attack Iran, many in the country believe time is running out. Last week's report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) highlighted Iran's apparent determination to build a nuclear warhead, but did not indicate how long it might take.
Some in Israel, however, believe it is very close.
"It is my personal opinion that, if the Iranian regime decides to do so, it can produce a nuclear explosive device within a year, plus or minus a few months," said Ephraim Asculai, a former IAEA official and leading Israeli expert on Iran's nuclear programme.
The article also gives potential scenarios that will result from any Israeli military action:
As Mr Panetta warned during a Pentagon briefing last Thursday, such a strike would also have a "serious impact" on the region. Iran could blockade the Straits of Hormuz, through which 25 per cent of the world's oil exports are shipped, sending energy prices soaring. US military assets in the Gulf could come also come under attack from Iranian Scud missiles.
Iran would almost certainly fire its Shahab ballistic missiles at Israeli cities and press Hizbollah and Hamas, the militant Islamist groups it funds and equips, to unleash their huge rocket arsenals from their bases in Lebanon and Gaza.
Such are both the political and military risks involved that many Israelis say it is inconceivable that Mr Netanyahu would go to war without the United States alongside him.
The closing statement is always something to remember when it comes to Israel and their sense of self-preservation:
In Mr Netanyahu's eyes, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is another "Hitler" whose aim is to complete what the Holocaust failed to do by wiping out the Jewish race.
"People outside Israel don't understand how profound memories of the Holocaust are, and how they affect future policy making," said Mr Bergman, the military analyst. "At the end of the day, this policy of 'never again' would dictate Israel's behaviour when intelligence comes through that Iran has come close to a bomb."
It appears that Israel has finally come to the conclusion that they cannot expect the U.S. to assist them when it comes to dealing with Iran. If the U.S. refuses to assist, then what is the point in informing the U.S of your plans? The idea that Israel is willing to complete this mission alone, without "approval" from the U.S. and, possibly not even informing the U.S. in advance, represents major deterioration in U.S.-Israeli relationships and it also seems to indicate a lack of trust between the two nations.