Israel "responsible" on Iran, Obama adviser says
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel and the United States are closely conferring about the Iranian nuclear program, U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones said in an interview published Sunday, calling Israel's conduct "responsible."
Western governments fear that Iran wants to produce nuclear weapons but Tehran says the program is for peaceful purposes. Iran has vowed to respond to any unilateral Israeli strike over the nuclear program.
The five permanent Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- along with Germany have been negotiating with Iran, but U.S. officials say drafts of possible sanctions should circulate among the group soon.
Jones said the United States and Israel are in close coordination over how to handle Iran. "We have very good dialogue with Israel, continual dialogue," he told The Jerusalem Post. "We're working very closely with them."
Asked whether Washington was concerned about Israel trying to take on its arch-foe alone, Jones said: "Our Israeli partners are very responsible."
Michael Oren, Israel's envoy to the United States, said last month the military option "was not a subject of discussion."
The Obama administration is eyeing the possibility of a fourth round of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran -- despite the past misgivings of Russia and China.
Iran rejects Western charges that its nuclear program has military designs, and has vowed to retaliate with ballistic missiles for any strikes on its facilities by Israel, which is assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal.
Israel says a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its existence and points to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's calls for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map.
Addressing a Washington think-tank Friday, Jones envisaged Iran trying to distract from the diplomatic pressure by ordering proxy attacks from its Islamist guerrilla allies on the Jewish state's borders.
"When regimes are feeling pressure, as Iran is internally and will externally in the near future, it often lashes out through its surrogates, including, in Iran's case, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza," Jones told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"As pressure on the regime in Tehran builds over its nuclear program, there is a heightened risk of further attacks against Israel," he added.
Israel went to war against Hezbollah in 2006 and against Palestinian Hamas a year ago, and considers both groups to have been cowed by its super firepower.
But Israeli officials agree that Hezbollah, and to a lesser degree Hamas, would launch cross-border rocket salvoes on Iran's behalf should it come under attack.
Such a scenario featured in an Israeli-U.S. air defense exercise last year. Israel is this week hosting the deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, who will inspect anti-missile facilities, an Israeli military spokeswoman said.
(Writing by Dan Williams)