WASHINGTON — The head of Israel's intelligence service paid a secret visit to Washington last week to discuss Iran's nuclear program, the CIA director and a top US lawmaker said Tuesday.
Mossad chief Tamir Pardo flew to the US capital to consult with his American counterparts amid speculation over a possible Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, CIA director David Petraeus and Senator Dianne Feinstein revealed at a congressional hearing.
Sensitive trips by intelligence chiefs are usually kept secret but Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, mentioned Pardo's visit at a televised hearing as she discussed how Israel views Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"Well, the vice chairman and I have just met this past week with the director of Mossad, so that is a classified meeting," Feinstein said at the hearing.
The Central Intelligence Agency director confirmed the meeting and said he was frequently talking to Israel's leaders, who he said viewed Iran's nuclear program as an "existential threat."
"Like you, obviously, I met with the head of Mossad when he was here," Petraeus said.
"That is part of an ongoing dialogue that has also included conversations that I've had with Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu and with (Defense) Minister (Ehud) Barak -- the latter almost on a monthly basis in the nearly five months that I've been in the job," he said.
Feinstein cited her meeting with the Mossad director after asking US intelligence chiefs about the likelihood of possible pre-emptive military action by Israel against Iran's nuclear sites.
US National Intelligence Director James Clapper replied that sanctions would hopefully convince Tehran to abandon its nuclear work but said he would prefer to answer the question in a closed-door session.
Israeli officials have sent conflicting messages about potential military strikes on Iran.
President Shimon Peres on Tuesday reaffirmed that "no option should be excluded against the program of Iran, which seeks to acquire weapons of mass destruction."
"The regime of the ayatollahs is the most corrupt in the world, from a moral point of view," Peres told a conference in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv.
The United States and other Western governments accuse Iran of seeking an atomic weapons capability, something Tehran has always denied.
Israeli leaders fear a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state, which has the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear arsenal.
Some Israeli media reported in October last year that the option of pre-emptive air strikes on Iran was opposed by the country's intelligence services but favored by Netanyahu and Barak.