By Adam Levine, Pam Benson and Suzanne Kelly
As questions swirl about whether Israel may preemptively bomb Iranin an effort to slow its nuclear program, a senior congressional official said Friday the the head of intelligence met with American officials to get a better sense of how the U.S.would respond.
The head of Israel's intelligence agency was just in Washington for meetings with intelligence officials and some members of Congress, according to Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-CA, and the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who mentioned the meetings during a hearing this past week.
The congressional source who spoke to CNN said when the head of the Mossad visited Washington this week, it was to hear what steps the United States might take against Iran, and to gauge what the United Stateswould do if Israel were to strike Iran on its own.
The U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta believes Israel could strike Iranas early as this spring, CNN reported on Thursday, citing a defense official familiar with the defense secretary's thinking.
Both the congressional or defense official declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information.
Asked about that belief by reporters covering a NATO meeting in Brussels that Panetta was attending this past week, the secretary would neither confirm nor deny the report.
Panetta did say that the U.S. administration has expressed its concerns to Israel, although he did not elaborate.
One of those concerns could be what Iran's response might be were Israel to strike.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told CNN's John King on Thursday that Israelis "going to make its own decisions based on its history." Gates said Israeli and American officials are at odds about what the response would be if Israel did launch a military strike.
"I think there is disagreement in terms of what we think the Iranians would do as a result of an attack, and for our part, I think most American senior officials believe that the Iranians will, in fact, retaliate - and not just narrowly, but potentially across the entire region," Gates said in the exclusive interview that aired on John King, USA.
The senior congressional official said he believes Israeli officials would not alert their Americans counterparts prior to any strike onIran.
His opinion echoed a concern of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, who made similar remarks last December in an interview with CNN's Barbara Starr.
"We are trying to establish some confidence on the part of the Israelis that we recognize their concerns and are collaborating with them on addressing them," Dempsey said.
U.S.and Israeli government officials have been talking. In January, Dempsey travelled to Tel Aviv to try and persuadeIsraelto give more time for the sanctions onIranto have their intended effect. The Israelis and Americans are working together, insisted the Director of National Intelligence. "We are doing a lot with the Israelis, working together with them," James Clapper told a Senate hearing this week.
CIA Director David Petraeus said speaks monthly with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.