WASHINGTON – In remarks seemingly aimed at Israel,
the United States said Friday it had "eyes" and "visibility" inside Iran's
nuclear program and would know if Tehran made a "breakout" towards a nuclear weapon.
Washington also indicated it had not changed its view that Iran was not yet on the verge of building a nuclear bomb, despite Defense Minister Ehud Barak's
statement that US intelligence now viewed the threat as more "urgent."
White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on intelligence matters but said that Washington and Israel were agreed about Iran's ambitions for its nuclear program.
"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."
Breakout capability is commonly understood to be the point when a state acquires the knowledge, capability and materials to build a nuclear bomb if it wants to.
Carney said later in his briefing that he was referring to International Atomic Energy Agency officials mandated to inspect Iran's nuclear sites because Tehran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
But many experts believe there has also been substantial infiltration and sabotage of Iran's nuclear program by Western and Israeli intelligence agencies.
Though the Obama
Administration has not taken the military option off the table, Carney said "there is time and space to pursue the diplomatic option that includes extremely and increasingly aggressive sanctions."
Carney's comments appeared to be an indirect repudiation of Barak's comment on Public Radio that it was getting tougher to assess Iran's nuclear progress.
Top officials in Jerusalem said on Friday that Barak was the most vehement advocate for a strike on Iran, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
still has reservations and is yet to decide about the best course of action.
"Barak is advocating for action and the defense establishment is investing billions to prepare for an Israeli military operation," an official close to the issue told Ynet.
But a cabinet minister questioned Barak's decisiveness on the matter.
"You can never know what Barak is thinking," he said. "On one hand, he is creating an alibi in the form of the army's opposition (to a strike), and on the other hand he is coming off as someone who is pushing for action. No one knows what he will decide in the moment of truth. We just don't know.
"Barak is smarter than many of the decision makers, which is why he is playing this double game."
Government sources also suggested that the US is using the media to turn the Israeli public against such an attack.
"There is no doubt that the Americans are playing the Israeli media," one source said. "They are very concerned about an Israeli operation ahead of the elections. This is clearly a poker game. Let's see who will blink first. Israel wants everyone to be on edge."
State officials noted that despite its apparent wariness towards the military option, the US continues to deploy forces – including aircraft carriers and minesweepers – to the Persian Gulf.
"They are quietly signaling that Washington is serious in its intention to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear power," one source said.
But a former White House adviser for Middle East affairs said that President Barack Obama may be ready to accept a nulcear Iran.
Bruce Reidel, a former CIA official and senior adviser to three US presidents – including George W. Bush – told Ynet on Friday that Israel's prime opportunity to strike Iran is coming up in October – only weeks before the presidential elections take place in the US.
If Obama is reelected in November, it would be much more difficult to convince him that a strike is the best course of action. In fact, Reidel postulated that a second Obama Administration could opt to adopt a policy of "containment," or in other words make peace with the possibility that Iran will obtain nuclear power.
An October strike is Obama's "worst nightmare," Reidel said, anticipating that top US officials will travel to Israel prior to the elections in an attempt to dissuade its leaders from launching a strike and to buy time for the incumbent president, who may not be ready to employ the military option in the next six months, if at all.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to the report