US didn’t foresee 9/11, officials in Jerusalem say, after White House claims it would know if Iran was about to get the bomb

Withering response from anonymous sources in Israel to Obama spokesman’s attempt at reassurance

Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, pictured in the Knesset in December 2011. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, pictured in the Knesset in December 2011. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israeli officials issued a withering response Saturday to assurances from the White House that the US would know in good time if Iran was making a “breakout” to a nuclear weapon.

The Americans “didn’t see 9/11 coming,” Israel’s Channel 2 news quoted what it said were “sources in Jerusalem” saying, a day after White House spokesman Jay Carney claimed the US can see what’s going on with Iran’s nuclear program and that it would know if Tehran is close to obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“I would also say that we have eyes — we have visibility into the program, and we would know if and when Iran made what’s called a breakout move towards acquiring a weapon,” said Carney.

The exchanges of rhetoric came as Israel’s leaders issue increasingly clear hints about an imminent Israeli resort to military action to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive, and with the US reportedly trying to persuade Israel to hold its fire.

Israel’s main TV news broadcast reported on Friday evening that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have “almost finally” decided on an Israeli strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities this fall, and a final decision will be taken “soon.”

Channel 2 News’ diplomatic correspondent Udi Segal said Israel does not believe that the US will take military action as Iran closes in on the bomb.

The US, the TV report said, has not provided Israel with details of an attack plan. President Obama has not promised to attack Iran if all else fails. Conditions cited by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for an American attack do not calm Israeli concerns. And Obama has a record of seeking UN and Arab League approval before action. All these factors, in Jerusalem’s mind, underline the growing conviction of Netanyahu and Barak that Israel will have to tackle Iran alone, the TV report said.

Netanyahu, for his part, “is convinced that thwarting Iran amounts to thwarting a plan to destroy the Jewish people,” Segal said. The prime minister considers Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to be acting rationally in order to achieve “fanatical” goals.

The extensive TV report made much of a recent speech by Netanyahu, at the scene of last Sunday’s terror attack thwarted by Israel at the Gaza-Egypt-Israel border. “It becomes clear time after time that when it comes to the safety of Israeli citizens, Israel must and can rely only on itself. No one can fulfill this role except the IDF and different Israel security forces of Israel, and we will continue to conduct ourselves in this way,” Netanyahu said.

Carney said on Friday that Washington still believes there is “time and space” for the “extremely and increasingly aggressive sanctions” against Iran to work.

On Thursday, US National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor also said Iran was progressing in its nuclear program — but was not yet on the brink of having a nuclear weapon.

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