The Guardian quoted European diplomatic sources as saying that Israel seriously considered launching a military strike on Iran's nuclear sites this spring but was told by President George W Bush that he would not support it and did not expect to revise that view for the rest of his presidency.
The sources told the British newspaper that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert used the occasion of Bush's trip to Israel for its 60th anniversary celebrations to raise the issue in a one-on-one meeting on May 14, the sources said.
"He took it (the refusal of a US green light) as where they were at the moment, and that the US position was unlikely to change as long as Bush was in office", one of the sources was quoted by the Guardian as saying.
According to the sources, Bush's decision to refuse to offer any support for a strike on Iran appeared to be based on two factors. One was US concern over Iran's likely retaliation, which would probably include a wave of attacks on US military and other personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as on shipping in the Persian Gulf.
The other, the sources told the Guardian, was US anxiety that Israel would not succeed in disabling Iran's nuclear facilities in a single assault even with the use of dozens of aircraft. It could not mount a series of attacks over several days without risking full-scale war. So the benefits would not outweigh the costs, the diplomats told the Guardian.
'Israel prefers diplomatic solution'
According to the sources, even if Israel were to launch an attack on Iran without US approval its planes could not reach their targets without the US becoming aware of their flight path and having time to ask them to abandon their mission.
"The shortest route to Natanz lies across Iraq and the US has total control of Iraqi airspace", one of the officials told the newspaper. Natanz, about 100 miles north of Isfahan, is the site of a uranium enrichment plant.
Mark Regev, Olmert's spokesman, reacted to the Guardian's report saying, "The need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is raised at every meeting between the prime minister and foreign leaders. Israel prefers a diplomatic solution to this issue but all options must remain on the table.
"Your unnamed European source attributed words to the prime minister that were not spoken in any working meeting with foreign guests," he said.