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Flynt Leverett, a former Mideast specialist on the National Security Council and advocate of a “grand bargain” between the U.S. and Iran, said the new working group could undermine the credibility of any U.S. offers to Iran. So far, the Obama administration has not offered new proposals, but has lifted the Bush administration’s precondition that Iran suspend uranium enrichment before U.S. diplomats would talk directly with Tehran.

“It is an idea that unfortunately is in keeping with a number of other statements and decisions by the Obama administration that will completely undercut the credibility of any U.S. overtures in the eyes of Iranian leaders - assuming the U.S. will make such overtures,” he said. “The Iranians are going to see this as Israel setting policy toward them.”

Patrick Clawson, the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, however, that it was smart for Mr. Obama to create the working group. “Obama has asked for no surprises. This will let the Obama administration have a better understanding of what Israel is thinking and what it is considering doing.”

• Barbara Slavin contributed to this report.