US, Israel debate ‘red lines’ for strike on Iran

A satellite photo of Natanz, Iran’s largest nuclear facility, which features a fuel enrichment plant, surrounded by anti-aircraft weapons. (Google)

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—The United States and Israel are discussing what stage in Iran’s nuclear program would constitute a red line, which if crossed by Iran would necessitate a preemptive strike on the country’s nuclear facilities.

According to a report in The Daily Beast, the consultation was convened following a complaint by Israel over remarks made by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta several weeks ago warning against a military attack on Iran.

TDB reported that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren made an official complaint with the administration after Panetta’s remarks infuriated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, by implying that Israel did not have the right to defend itself against Iran’s nuclear threat.

According to the report, the White House then relayed a message to Israel saying the administration has its own “red lines” concerning a strike on Iran, and that Israel does not need to act unilaterally.

Israel’s reaction apparently led to Panetta reversing himself soon after in an interview with CBS. The US, he said, will use any means necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

The report quoted Patrick Clawson from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy as saying that, “If Iran were found to be sneaking out or breaking out then the president’s advisers are firmly persuaded he would authorize the use of military force to stop it.” However, he added that “we just don’t know how the president will react.”

The Daily Beast also reported that, as part of the new level of strategic dialogue between Israel and the US, Israel presented new intelligence data about Iran’s efforts to build secret reactors for nuclear fuel production. The US was said to be surprised to see that these efforts are further along than it had thought.

As an example of the Mossad’s intelligence gathering capability, the new data were based on soil samples collected near the suspected sites.

The strategic dialogue continues, with Israel and the US still at odds over how far along Iran’s uranium enrichment program has developed. So far, apparently, the partners have been unable to formulate a red line for the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program.