JERUSALEM – During a secret visit here earlier this month, CIA Director Leon Panetta told Israeli officials the country should prepare for a situation in which Iran is a nuclear power with the ability to strike, according to a source intimately familiar with the subject.
The message was not the main thrust of Panetta's meetings in Israel about three weeks ago, but Jerusalem officials were somewhat surprised nonetheless when he made those remarks during his conversations. Panetta met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mossad chief Meir Dagan and other intelligence officials.
According to a source with direct knowledge of the meetings, Panetta's trip to Jerusalem was meant to smooth the way for Netanyahu's meeting earlier this week with President Obama. Panetta laid out the U.S. strategy for dealing with Iran. The CIA chief was seen here as delivering political messages largely dictated by the White House and not expressing operational assessments from his intelligence agency.
Israeli media dispatches reported that Panetta told Netanyahu not to launch any strike against Iran without first securing American permission. The Jerusalem Post reported this week Panetta also asked Israel to "tone down" its rhetoric on Iran and to stop threatening military strikes on Tehran's nuclear installations.
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The source who spoke with WND said that within his conversations with Israeli officials, Panetta also told Israel to prepare, both mentally and operationally, for the possibility of Iran possessing nuclear weapons.
Panetta further contended Iran's support of terrorism does not necessarily mean that country would seek to launch a nuclear first strike against Israel. Panetta said that Israeli deterrent power, if properly utilized, should be enough to prevent a nuclear Iran from striking the Jewish state.
The source charged Panetta's messages were "poorly informed" estimates of Iranian intentions.
Said the source: "Firstly, he didn't see Iran's support of terrorism as a potential nuclear threat. That if Iran possesses nuclear weapons, it could pass nuclear material to its global terrorist proxies, like Hezbollah, to detonate at arms length. Some Iranian proxies have missiles and rockets."
"Secondly," the source continued, "he seemed not to have taken into account that Iran is a Shiite fundamentalist theocracy that may want a major confrontation in order to bring back their Islamic Messiah."
The source was referring to Shia Muslim tradition which believes Muhammad's immediate decendants – a series of 12 imams, or Muslim leaders – are the most trusted carriers of Islamic tradition. Most Shia Muslims believe the 12th Imam, Mahdi, is still alive but cannot be seen until Allah determines it is time to prepare the faithful for Judgment Day. They believe Mahdi eventually will reveal himself and lead the forces of righteousness against the forces of evil in a final, apocalyptic world battle.
The Twelvers count Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad among their faithful.
Some Mideast analysts fear Ahmadinejad may be pursuing nuclear weapons in part to precipitate the Mahdi-led battle.
In a speech in Tehran in November 2006, Ahmadinejad reportedly said his main mission is to "pave the path for the glorious reappearance of Imam Mahdi, may Allah hasten his reappearance."
Ahmadinejad's cabinet reportedly has given $17 million to the Jamkaran mosque, site of a well at which Shia Muslims believe Mahdi disappeared over a thousand years ago.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Global Viewpoint, Panetta reportedly said Israel knows not to launch an attack on Iran to destroy that country's suspected nuclear weapons facilities without coordinating its strategy with other nations.
Panetta said launching such an attack would mean "big trouble for Israel," according to excerpts of the interview published by the Jerusalem Post.
Panetta said he conveyed this message to Netanyahu during his visit here. He told Global Viewpoint he "felt assured" Israel would not stray from Washington's aims and goals in the region.
"...The Israelis are obviously concerned about Iran and focused on it," Panetta said. "But [Netanyahu] understands that if Israel goes it alone, it will mean big trouble. He knows that for the sake of Israeli security, they have to work together with others."
The CIA chief went on to say Iran "has our full attention."