The Israeli security establishment is divided over whether it needs Washington's blessing if Israel decides to attack Iran, Israeli officials say, as the U.S. campaign for sanctions drags on and Tehran steadily develops greater nuclear capability.
Some senior Israeli officials say in interviews with the Wall Street Journal that they see signs Washington may be willing to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, an eventuality that Israel says it won't accept.
Israel says it supports the U.S.-led push for new economic sanctions against Iran. But Israeli officials have increasingly voiced frustration over the slow pace of diplomatic efforts to get sanctions in place.
Former senior members of Israel's defense establishment have weighed in recently on both sides of the debate.
"We don't have permission, and we don't need permission from the U.S.," says Ephraim Sneh, who served as deputy minister of defense under former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser, says Israel wouldn't jeopardize its relationship with the U.S. by launching a military strike against Iran without an American nod.
Late last month, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak seemed to acknowledge publicly the opposing viewpoints inside the administration.
"Only we have the exclusive responsibility when it comes to the fate and security of Israel, and only we can determine the matters pertaining to the fate of Israel and the Jewish people," Barak said. "But we must never lose sight of how important these relations are, or the ability to act in harmony and unity with the United States."
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated Sunday the U.S. position that a military strike against Iran is a "last option."
A senior U.S. official said the U.S. has stated to Israel its opposition to unilateral Israeli action, but that there were still fears within the administration that Israel could strike Iran despite Washington's objections.
Israel's track record of coordinating such strikes with the U.S. is mixed. The country caught the U.S. by surprise with its attack on Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981. When Israel attacked a suspected Syrian nuclear facility in 2007, Washington was given advanced warning, according to U.S. officials at the time.