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WikiLeaks documents shed light on U.S.-Israel talks over Iran

By Tim Lister, CNN
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Fallout over latest WikiLeaks release
  • Leaked cables show that 2010 was seen as a critical year for Iran threat
  • In 2009, Israeli official cited short window to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons
  • Israeli cable on nuclear sites: "It will be more difficult to target and damage them"

(CNN) -- Diplomatic cables obtained by the website WikiLeaks show a continuous dialogue between Israel and the United States about the threat posed by Iran, with the Israeli defense minister and other Israeli officials suggesting that 2010 would be a critical year.

A cable dated June 2009 describes meetings between two congressional delegations and Israeli officials. It says that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak "estimated a window between 6 and 18 months from now in which stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable."

After that, Barak's view was that "any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage," according to the cable.

That theme recurs in other meetings between Israel and the U.S.

A cable sent on November 18, 2009, reviews the 40th Joint Political Military Group meeting, an annual consultation between Israel and the U.S., and says the Israeli government "described 2010 as a critical year."

"If the Iranians continue to protect and harden their nuclear sites, it will be more difficult to target and damage them," the cable says.

The cable continues: "Both sides then discussed the upcoming delivery of GBU-28 bunker busting bombs to Israel, noting that the transfer should be handled quietly to avoid any allegations that the USG (U.S. government) is helping Israel prepare for a strike against Iran."

New leaks in 'public's interest'

At the same meeting, Israeli officials "raised the current direction the Government of Turkey has taken toward Syria and Iran -- and away from Israel."

Earlier this year relations between Israel and Turkey were soured by an Israeli assault on a ship headed for the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

A different cable on the same meeting adds the perspective of the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.

"From Mossad's perspective, there is no reason to believe Iran will do anything but use negotiations to stall for time," the cable says, "so that by 2010-2011, Iran will have the technological capability to build a nuclear weapon -- essentially reducing the question of weaponizing to a political decision."

An earlier U.S.-Israeli meeting had discussed other nonmilitary options for dealing with Iran. A summary of talks between Mossad director Meir Dagan and then-U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns in August 2007 quoted Dagan as urging "more attention on regime change, asserting that more could be done to develop the identities of ethnic minorities in Iran."

According to the cable, Dagan said he was sure that Israel and the U.S. could "change the ruling regime in Iran, and its attitude towards backing terror regimes. We could also get them to delay their nuclear project. Iran could become a normal state." That hope appears to have been downplayed in later cables.

In that 2007 meeting, the Mossad chief was also skeptical of Gulf states' efforts to improve their defenses with large-scale weapons purchases, saying: "They do not use the weapons effectively," according to the cable.

The documents show that Israel has frequently warned in the past that Iran's nuclear program was reaching a critical point. According to a cable from 2005, then-Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz cautioned that Iran is "less than one year away (from full enrichment capability) while the head of research in military intelligence estimated that Iran would reach this point by early 2007."

The cables also show that Israel frequently raised the issue of U.S. arms sales to moderate Arab states, anxious that its "qualitative military edge" in the region be preserved.