The Obama administration denied a claim the president last year threatened to shoot down Israeli fighter jets if they tried to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, the Washington Times reported.
According to the Times, a senior administration official said Sunday “that report is totally false.”
U.S. President Barack Obama listens to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, March 3, 2014.
The claim circulated Sunday after Israeli media outlet Arutz Sheva posted an article saying Obama thwarted the planned attack with a threat of military force. Arutz Sheva attributed the claim to Bethlehem-based news agency Ma’an, which itself cited a Kuwaiti newspaper report.
More from Arutz Sheva:
According to Al-Jarida, the (Benjamin) Netanyahu government took the decision to strike Iran some time in 2014 soon after Israel had discovered the United States and Iran had been involved in secret talks over Iran’s nuclear program and were about to sign an agreement in that regard behind Israel’s back.
The report claimed that an unnamed Israeli minister who has good ties with the US administration revealed the attack plan to Secretary of State John Kerry, and that Obama then threatened to shoot down the Israeli jets before they could reach their targets in Iran.
Al-Jarida quoted “well-placed” sources as saying that Netanyahu, along with Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon, and then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, had decided to carry out airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear program after consultations with top security commanders.
According to the report, “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 sources added that Gantz and his commanders prepared the requested plan and that Israeli fighter jets trained for several weeks in order to make sure the plans would work successfully. Israeli fighter jets reportedly even carried out experimental flights in Iran’s airspace after they managed to break through radars.
The claim coincides with the Israeli prime minister’s contentious visit to the United States this week, which will be capped by his scheduled address Tuesday to a joint session of Congress in which Netanyahu will lay out his concerns about Iran’s nuclear program — a speech the Obama administration has been flatly against.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday tried to calm tensions with Israel before Netanyahu’s address, yet insisted the Obama administration’s diplomatic record with Iran entitles the U.S. to “the benefit of the doubt” as negotiators work toward a long-term nuclear deal.
Kerry said in an interview broadcast before he arrived in Switzerland for talks with Iran’s foreign minister that Netanyahu was welcome to speak in the U.S. and that the administration did not want the event “turned into some great political football.”
That sentiment was a step back from some of the sharp rhetoric between the allies in recent weeks, and Kerry mentioned that he talked to Netanyahu as recently as Saturday.
But Kerry stressed that Israel was safer as a result of the short-term nuclear pact that world powers and Iran reached in late 2013, and he described that improvement as the “standard we will apply to any agreement” with the Islamic Republic.
“We are going to test whether or not diplomacy can prevent this weapon from being created, so you don’t have to turn to additional measures including the possibility of a military confrontation,” Kerry told ABC’s “This Week.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.