Israel suspects that senior figures in the U.S. administration have been briefing local media outlets in recent weeks against a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities in an attempt to sway Israeli public opinion, according to reports.
At a joint briefing with General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the United States does not believe Israel has made a decision yet on whether to attack Iran over its nuclear program. Panetta, who visited Israel two weeks ago, told reporters at the Pentagon it was important that military action be the "last resort" and said there was still time for sanctions and diplomatic pressure to work.
Dempsey, who was in Israel for high-level talks in January, cautioned that any Israeli strike would not destroy Iran's nuclear program but would rather only delay its work. "I may not know about all of their capabilities but I think that it's a fair characterization to say that they could delay but not destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities," he said.
Israel Radio reported on Wednesday that Israeli officials regard the comments as an attempt to influence Israeli public opinion. A senior security source told the Israeli website Walla! on Wednesday morning that "this is a blatant and extreme attempt to directly influence the debate in Israel."
The website also reported that the comments by Dempsey and Panetta confirm Israeli suspicions that senior U.S. officials have been briefing the Israeli media against a strike, and have even disclosed details that were discussed in internal, closed meetings between the U.S. and Israel.
The source added, "while their comments do reflect the disagreement [between the U.S. and Israel], it is not right to talk about it so publicly in the media. Israel has said more than once that all options are on the table, and we mean it."
Israeli sources also believe that the comments by Dempsey and Panetta were meant to calm the Iranian side and to facilitate continued dialogue between Iran and the West.
Israeli media has recently been awash with speculation about a possible attack. Top-level officials are concerned that time is running out to stop Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities. Israel's envoy to Washington, Michael Oren, told CNN that the window of opportunity before military action becomes inevitable was "small and the window is getting smaller." He acknowledged that Israel's clock was ticking faster than Washington's.
Asked about comments by Israeli officials, Panetta said: "I don't believe they've made a decision as to whether or not they will go in and attack Iran at this time."
"With regard to the issue of where we're at from a diplomatic point of view, the reality is that we still think there is room to continue to negotiate," Panetta said.
U.S. officials have repeatedly stressed that Washington can do more damage, if necessary, and vowed that they would not allow Tehran to obtain a nuclear weapon.
Former Defense Minister MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) told Army Radio that Israel was prepared "down to the last millimeter" to attack Iran. "The question is whether Israel can allow itself to attack without any coordination with America," he added. "We need to take into account that the other side will respond, and that may be a very painful response."
And Dichter makes nine
Avi Dichter, the outgoing Kadima MK who is poised to become Israel's next homefront minister, presented his letter of resignation to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday. Dichter must step down as an MK before taking up the ministerial portfolio as his party is now in the opposition.
Dichter will also join the key ministerial body the Forum of Eight, making it the Forum of Nine. The body deals with the highest-level of discussions and deliberations, in particular on issues concerning security. Channel 2 TV reported Tuesday evening that Dichter cannot join the regular Cabinet due to regulations that stipulate the Cabinet cannot comprise more than half the number of coalition members.
There now appears to be a majority in this inner Cabinet in favor of a preemptive strike against Iran, as it is widely believe that Dichter backs the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The forum cannot take Cabinet decisions, but it is broadly believed that if the forum backs a strike, the rest of the government will fall in line with the decision.
Iran says Israel wouldn't dare attack
Iran, meanwhile, dismissed Tuesday the possibility that Israel would launch an attack against it. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters that the likelihood of an Israeli attack is slim, and added that Iran is not taking seriously the threat of attack.
“Even if the Israeli government decides to make such a stupid move, it will not happen and Israel will suffer the consequences,” Mehmanparast said. “These threats stem from the Zionists’ internal problems and the social crisis there."
Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi also dismissed the threats, saying it was psychological warfare. Iranian news agencies quoted him as saying that, “Israel definitely doesn't have what it takes to endure Iran's might and will.” He labeled the Israeli threats “a sign of weakness” by “brainless leaders.”