"I came back from a trip to Israel in November convinced that Israel would attack Iran," Bruce Riedel, a former career CIA official and senior adviser to three US presidents - including George W. Bush - on Middle East and South Asian issues, told Newsweek Thursday, citing conversations he had with Mossad and Israeli defense officials.
"And that was before the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). This makes it even more likely. Israel is not going to allow its nuclear monopoly to be threatened," the American magazine quoted Riedel as saying in an article titled, "What will Israel do?".
Published in early December, the American NIE determined that Iran had shelved its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
According to Newsweek, "a rising tide of opinion in Israel's intelligence and national-security circles believes that the NIE does signal American retreat-and, more profoundly, renewed Israeli isolation over what is deemed an existential threat out of Tehran."
'Israel has gotten away with it'
The magazine quoted Knesset Member Ephraim Sneh, a former deputy defense minister who has "warned for years that Israel would eventually have to confront Iran alone," as saying that "today we are closer to this situation than we were three weeks ago ... we have to be prepared to forestall this threat on our own."
David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington told Newsweek that Israel was likely encouraged by the non-reaction to their September air strike on a reported Syrian nuclear facility, "which may have been a test run for Iran, or at least a warning directed at Tehran".
"Israel has gotten away with it in a sense," Albright was quoted as saying. He suggested that any Israeli pre-emptive action might not be a "traditional strike" but could involve more "sabotage of equipment".
Newsweek said Israel also knows that the Arab states are "terrified of an Iranian nuclear power, possibly to the point of looking the other way at another such strike".
The magazine said one reason for Bush's abruptly announced nine-day visit to the Middle East in mid-January was "to deal with the fallout from the NIE, which includes not only the possibility that Israel will act unilaterally but also that Bush's prized Annapolis peace process will stall.
"The Bush trip is, in part, an implicit concession to US hawks that the NIE went too far in absolving Iran. It is also a conscious effort to reassure both Israel and the Arab states that Washington will stand up to Iran's increasing intrusiveness and hegemonic tendencies," Newsweek said in its report.