Israel and the US are reportedly working on a limited joint attack on Iran aimed at setting the country’s nuclear program back several years without inflaming the region, a source close to talks between the nations said.

The report comes after weeks of strained discussions between Israel and the US on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program, with the US refusing to set “red lines” for Iran that, if crossed, would trigger military action, and the Obama Administration publicly opposing a reported Israeli willingness to carry out a unilateral strike against Iranian nuclear facilities..

In an op-ed published on the Foreign Policy website on Monday, David Rothkopf cited “a source close to the discussions” who said a surgical strike plan against Iran’s enrichment facilities is being developed. The air attack, which may only take a couple of hours, would use bombers backed up by drones to take out just the key facilities at the heart of the bomb-making program, setting it back by several years, indicated Rothkopf, a prominent commentator, member of the Council on Foreign Relations and former Clinton administration official.

“The action that participants currently see as most likely is a joint US-Israeli surgical strike targeting Iranian enrichment facilities,” he wrote. “The strike might take only ‘a couple of hours’ in the best case and would only involve a ‘day or two’ overall, and would be conducted by air, using primarily bombers and drone support,” the source said.

The US has repeatedly stressed its belief that there is still time for sanctions and diplomacy to thwart the Iranian nuclear drive, and is apparently wary of being drawn into another protracted Middle Eastern conflict.

However, a limited strike would set Iran back while benefiting the entire region by sending a clear message to Russia and China of US influence, the report said.

Officially, the US and Israel say they are in lockstep over how to deal with the Iranian threat. However, reports have surfaced of behind the scenes bickering over the timeline for action, and the “red lines” argument has been conducted publicly. Tellingly, President Barack Obama could find no time to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu during the prime minister’s brief visit to the US two weeks ago, although the two leaders have spoken twice at length by phone recently.

Most experts believe Israel does not have the capability to hit Iran as effectively as the US, and Israeli leaders have said Israel’s “window of opportunity” for causing substantive damage to the Iranian program is closing fast. On Sunday, a high-ranking Iranian official joined the chorus of voices warning Israel off a solo strike, telling Iranian media Israel was powerless without a US green light.

“Israel cannot attack Iran on its own. If it attacks [Iran], it must be sure that the United States will join it, either at the beginning [of the war] or during [the war]. Therefore, it needs the United States’ permission,” said Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who serves as the head of a top advisory council.

Rafsanjani, who previously served as Iran’s president, said that “the enemies” had placed their faith in sanctions and propaganda, an indication that they are not interested in war with Iran.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (photo credit: Youtube screen capture)

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (photo credit: Youtube screen capture)

Rafsanjani added that if the US shows goodwill, Iran will not be against opening a dialogue with Washington. Nonetheless, he advised that Iran should prepare itself for any eventuality.