President Obama threatened last year to use the U.S. military to shoot down Israeli fighter jets if they attempted to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, according to Middle Eastern news outlets Sunday — reports the administration denounced later that day as flatly untrue.
Mr. Obama’s threat reportedly deterred Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from dispatching warplanes into Iran after Israel discovered that the U.S. had entered into secret talks with Tehran and that the two countries had signed an agreement, according to Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida.
In a statement to The Washington Times early Sunday evening, a senior administration said “that report is totally false.”
Al-Jarida also reported Sunday that “well placed” sources confirmed an unnamed Israeli minister disclosed the plan to Secretary of State John Kerry, and that Mr. Obama replied by warning that he would foil the plan by shooting down Israeli jets before they could reach their target destinations.
“Netanyahu and his commanders agreed after four nights of deliberations to task the Israeli army’s chief of staff, Benny Gantz, to prepare a qualitative operation against Iran’s nuclear program. In addition, Netanyahu and his ministers decided to do whatever they could do to thwart a possible agreement between Iran and the White House because such an agreement is, allegedly, a threat to Israel’s security,” the report said.
The report added that the Israeli plan was practiced for several weeks in the form of aerial war exercises, and that Israeli Air Force even test-flew their fighter jets over Iranian airspace to simulate the actual planned attack.
The stunning stories come only two days before Mr. Netanyahu is scheduled to speak before U.S. Congress about the Iranian nuclear threat, much to the dismay of Mr. Obama and White House officials.
Mr. Kerry didn’t comment specifically on the reports during an appearance Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” but he did claim that Israel is safer today because of the Obama administration, including the interim deal with Iran on weapons-grade uranium.
“Israel is safer today, and that is the standard that we will apply to any agreement going forward. It is to guarantee that we will know that Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon under the procedure that we’re putting in place,” Mr. Kerry said on “This Week.”
He downplayed the reports on any Obama-Netanyahu rift, saying “the prime minister is welcome in the United States at any time. We have an unparalleled close security relationship with Israel, and we will continue to” have one, going on to tout U.S. help in developing Israel’s missile-defense system.
“President Obama has done more to ensure the security of Israel by the creation of Iron Dome, by the development of weapons that are specifically calculated to be able to deal with Iran’s nuclear weapon problem, and the president has pledged that they will not get a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Israeli media agency Arutz Sheva noted that the idea to thwart an Israeli attack on Iran to preserve nuclear talks may have originally hatched with former Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
“We are not exactly impotent little babies. They have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch?” the Carter administration national security adviser said in a 2008 interview with the Daily Beast.
“We have to be serious about denying them that right,” he said. “If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not. No one wishes for this but it could be a ‘Liberty’ in reverse.’”
Mr. Brzezinski’s mention of ‘Liberty’ was in reference to a famous incident in 1967, when Israel mistakenly attacked a U.S. warship during the Six-Day War.
Mr. Brzezinski was originally under consideration to work as an advisor to Mr. Obama, but he was downgraded after there were concerns that his perceived anti-Israel attitude would harm Mr. Obama at the polls.
Last week, Israel’s Channel 2 reported that Saudi Arabia agreed to allow Israel to use its airspace to attack Iran if necessary in exchange “some kind of progress” on the Palestinian issue.
“The Saudis have declared their readiness for the Israeli Air Force to overfly Saudi air space en route to attack Iran if an attack is necessary,” the Israeli Channel 2 report stated.
“The Saudi authorities are completely coordinated with Israel on all matters related to Iran,” the Channel 2 report quoted an unnamed European, Brussels based official as saying.