Israel consulted with the United States before carrying out covert strikes on an Iranian nuclear facility and a missile base earlier this year, the New York Times reported Saturday, as tensions rise between the two allies over Washington’s desire to make a deal with Tehran.
Israel spoke with the US ahead of a strike in September against a missile base, and one in June on a facility which made components for machines used to enrich uranium, sources told the newspaper.
Israeli allegedly hit a secret missile base belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in September and in June was said to have targeted a facility in Karaj used in the construction of centrifuges needed to enrich uranium.
Saturday’s report said that in the wake of the consultations, the White House praised Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government “for being far more transparent with it” than former premier Benjamin Netanyahu had been.
The New York Times report was based on conversations with more than a dozen American and Israeli officials. Israel has not publicly accepted responsibility for either of the strikes.
However the report said there were increasing tensions between Washington and Jerusalem as the US and Israel diverged on whether strikes on Iranian targets were an effective course of action, with Israel believing Tehran’s nuclear program has suffered setbacks while some in the US assessed that the sabotage meant that Iran was rebuilding its facilities with more up-to-date technology.
The report also said Jerusalem was concerned that if a nuclear deal were to be reached with Iran, Washington would try to prevent Israel from carrying out any further strikes. Israeli officials were said to be seeking reassurances from the US that they would be able to continue to take action if needed.
A senior Israeli intelligence official told the newspaper that the sabotage operations on Iranian military sites had led to what the report described as “crippling paranoia at the top of the Iranian government.” However, many American officials believed the tactic was either ineffective or was just “mowing the grass” — i.e. it may be slowing the nuclear program, but will not stop it.
Meanwhile, the report said that Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Mossad head David Barnea had concluded their trips to Washington this week “concerned” that the US will agree to a weak deal that will allow Iran to continue with its nuclear program.
These concerns could also be seen in the conversation earlier this month between Bennett and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when the former said that Iran was utilizing “nuclear blackmail” as a tactic and therefore the US should immediately stop negotiations.
The New York Times reported Saturday that during the call, Bennett said the extortion was taking the form of Iran increasing the enrichment percentage of uranium.
“Bennett added that no official, American or Israeli, wants to be the one to report that Iran has reached bomb-grade enrichment, but fears of a nuclear-armed Iran should not lead to surrendering to Iranian demands or signing a reckless agreement,” the report said.
However US officials were said to be making efforts to bridge the differences with Israel, leaking this week that there would be a review of a plan for potential military action against Iran if the talks fail, as well as a move to tighten sanctions on Tehran.
Meanwhile, Israeli and American military leaders are set to discuss possible military drills to practice destroying Iranian nuclear facilities in a potential worst-case scenario, a senior US official said.
Negotiations to revive a 2015 landmark agreement scaling back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief resumed in Vienna on Thursday, but ended an hour after they began.
That deal started to fall apart in 2018 when the US withdrew from it and reinstated sanctions, while Iran began to publicly breach the terms of the accord.
Agencies contributed to this report.