In an epic world exclusive, DEBKA Weekly's military and intelligence sources reveal that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a back-channel approach to Washington last month, requesting that Barack Obama personally ask Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to spell out Israel’s terms for dispensing with an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities – either with the US or unilaterally.
A hush was imposed on this one-of-a-kind communication from Tehran - so deep that Obama avoided discussing it even on a secure White House line to Jerusalem. He entrusted Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan with delivering it in person.
Israeli officials confirmed Brennan’s arrival on a “mystery trip” on May 17. Nothing else was divulged except that he met with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to discuss the Syrian crisis, with several Israel generals in attendance.
But the US spy chief’s most important interview was not disclosed, the one with Netanyahu. It was then that he delivered the message containing the supreme leader’s query. The upshot of their conversation was an agreement to coordinate US and Israeli positions in the matter. Both diagnosed the Iranian approach as an attempt to drive a wedge between Washington and Jerusalem.
The answer to Khamenei’s note came from Kerry
According to the information reaching this publication, Netanyahu has not yet posted a reply to Ayatollah Khamenei’s unprecedented communication to the Jewish state.
But on May 31, US Secretary of State John Kerry shed new, unforeseen light on the administration’s position:
Addressing a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Kerry said he was not optimistic that Iran's upcoming election would produce any change in the country's nuclear ambitions, which are believed aimed at developing atomic weapons. Any shift in Iran's nuclear policy will come from the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he said, and not the winner of the June 14 presidential election.
Secretary Kerry reiterated the long-standing U.S. position that it would be "unacceptable" for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
He also said the US would continue to pursue a peaceful resolution to the impasse but that time is running out. He said Iran's persistent defiance of international demands to come clean about its nuclear program makes the world more dangerous.
Political observers were surprised to hear Kerry breaking with the president’s decision to hold off on pushing Iran on its nuclear program until after its presidential election. Obama sought to reciprocate for Khamenei’s consent to abstain from rocking his boat when he stood for a second term last year.
However, the real bombshell was yet to come.
Obama’s green light for a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran
"Iran needs to understand that the clock is ticking," said the Secretary of State, continuing his comments. He noted that Israel, which sees Iran as a threat to its existence, “has not ruled out a unilateral military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Every month it goes by gets more dangerous. And the reality is that Israel will do what it needs to do to defend itself."
Those comments told Tehran that the Obama administration has finally come around to a nod for a unilateral Israeli military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
This landmark US policy departure was drowned out by the clamor of the Syrian war, the mounting evidence of the Assad regime’s use of the Sarin nerve gas - confirmed this week by France, and the Syrian rebels’ resounding defeat at al Qusayr.
But shortly after Kerry spoke, the US Departments of State and Treasury released a shower of new sanctions for tightening the squeeze on Tehran: Firms in the Persian Gulf, Cyprus and elsewhere were penalized for enabling blacklisted Iranian firms to obtain a long list of items including new aircraft and helping the Islamic Republic market banned oil exports.
Even harsher sanctions were slapped down Monday, June 3. They targeted Iran’s currency and car industry. An executive order signed by President Obama authorized penalties against foreign financial institutions trading in rials or holding rial accounts outside Iran, as well as providers of goods and services to Iran’s auto industry.
Obama furious at Khamenei for going over his head to Israel
These measures, said US spokesmen, aimed at devaluing the Iranian currency and hobbling its industry. They were the very same tough sanctions which Netanyahu called for in the past – only to be refused by the Obama administration.
What made Obama suddenly relent on this point and strike Tehran hard less than two weeks before Iranians go to the polls to choose a new president – contrary to his declared policy of going easy on Tehran during its election season?
No authoritative party has come forward with an explanation. Indeed, the White House, Netanyahu's Office and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s bureau are firmly mum on the subject.
So it is left to DEBKA Weekly’s sources to make three suggestions:
1. President Obama was furious at what he saw as Ayatollah Khamenei going over his head for a separate secret deal with Israel to save Iran’s nuclear program from attack, an offer he never made to Washington. Indeed, the Iranian ruler had the cheek to use the US president’s good services as a letterbox.
2. Kerry's reference to a ticking clock made the point that it is up to Washington – not Tehran – to determine whether or not Israel attacks Iran. Since Khamenei was not above using underhand tactics to reach Netanyahu, the US was settling the score by releasing the restraints which kept Iran safe from a solo Israeli attack and letting Khamenei contend with the Israeli threat as best he can.
3. President Obama is for the first time willing to countenance an early Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program.
Since much about this affair remains under wraps, DEBKA Weekly's sources expect to follow up this disclosure with more revelations.