President Bush last year rejected an Israeli request to provide sophisticated, deep-penetration bombs to attack Iran’s underground nuclear enrichment facilities, Pentagon officials said yesterday.
The administration also rebuffed Israel’s plan to fly through U.S.-controlled Iraqi airspace to reach the Iranian site, officials said. The Israelis had not proposed a specific date for an attack, and it was not clear how far along the planning was when the requests were made, officials said.
The Israeli requests were first reported on the New York Times Web site yesterday. The Times also said that President Bush, seeking to deflect the Israelis and to soften his refusal, told the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he had authorized a new covert action program to sabotage Iran’s uranium enrichment program. The report quoted U.S. officials as saying that some actions had been taken as part of what it described as an ongoing covert program, but that they had not seriously affected Iranian operations. Israel and the United States and principal European allies have charged that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program, a charge Tehran has denied.
Officials with the Israeli Embassy and the CIA declined to comment last night. A White House spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Some factions within the Bush administration have long advocated a U.S. military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but military leaders and others have argued against it on the grounds that it could endanger U.S. troops in the region and spark a broader war in the Middle East, and that it would probably only temporarily set back Iran’s efforts.
The Natanz complex in central Iran houses several underground structures containing gas centrifuges to enrich uranium. The Iranian government has said it is interested in peaceful nuclear energy only, but its failure to cooperate fully with international verification efforts has led to increasingly strict Western economic sanctions.
Israel has long considered Iran the main threat to its long-term security and has pressed a series of U.S. administrations to take stronger action against it.
The Times said its information was developed during reporting for an upcoming book by reporter David E. Sanger on global challenges awaiting the administration of President-elect Barack Obama.
Pentagon officials said that they were disturbed when Israeli air and naval exercises in the Mediterranean last summer appeared designed to test-fly distances equal to those between Israel and Iranian sites. The exercises briefly reawakened U.S. concerns that Israel was moving ahead with its attack plan. It could not be determined yesterday whether the Israeli plan had been abandoned or postponed.
Staff writer Joby Warrick contributed to this report