Daily Telegraph: The head of America's armed forces will make a hastily-arranged visit to Israel this week, fuelling speculation about a possible Washington-sanctioned Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear programme.
The Daily Telegraph
By Tim Butcher in Jerusalem
The head of America's armed forces will make a hastily-arranged visit to Israel this week, fuelling speculation about a possible Washington-sanctioned Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear programme.
Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, will use a rest day during a planned tour of Europe to meet with his Israeli opposite number, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi.
It is understood the rest day was to have been spent in Europe but at the last moment he decided to fly to Israel for talks, with the Iranian nuclear question at the top of the agenda.
Adm Mullen last visited Israel in December – the first visit from a US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in more than a decade.
A second visit in such a short time, sources indicated, was a demonstration of the close relationship Adm Mullen had forged with Gen Ashkenazi.
Israel is America's closest military ally and relations between the two sides are very close.
Gen Ashkenazi himself is due in Washington for his own official visit within a month.
Israel would require tacit US military approval for an attack on Iran, because America controls the Iraqi airspace which Israeli jets are likely to cross if they mount an assault.
News of Adm Mullen's visit comes after American sources revealed Israel carried out a full rehearsal of an air assault on Iran's network of nuclear sites involving scores of strike aircraft flying long-range missions.
While Israeli officials remained silent on the matter, sources in Washington at the Pentagon and other US government agencies confirmed the exercise staged in early June over the eastern Mediterranean.
The target of the exercise was 900 miles from Israel, roughly the same distance as Iran's nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz.
As many as 100 F-16 and F-15 jets were involved alongside Israeli helicopters with long-range fuel tanks which practised rescuing downed combat aircrew.
The exercise came as US President George W Bush and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, both used the same language in public to put pressure on Tehran, saying that a nuclear Iran was "unacceptable''.
Speculation about a possible attack intensified this week when John Bolton, America's former ambassador to the United Nations, suggested Israel might attack between the presidential election on November 4 and the inauguration in January.