Pro-Israel uber-hawks in Congress like to say there isn’t an ounce of daylight between the positions of the U.S. and Israel whenever an Israeli PM comes to Washington. But that’s apparently not the case regarding our respective views of Iran. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey gave an eye-opening interview to Reuters in which he admitted to several discordant notes in our view of Iran as opposed to Israel’s:
The top U.S. military officer told Reuters on Wednesday he did not know whether Israel would alert the United States ahead of time if it decided to take military action against Iran.
General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also acknowledged differences in perspective between the United States and Israel over the best way to handle Iran and its nuclear program.
He said the United States was convinced that sanctions and diplomatic pressure was the right path to take on Iran, along with “the stated intent not to take any options off the table” – language that leaves open the possibility of future military action.
“I’m not sure the Israelis share our assessment of that. And because they don’t and because to them this is an existential threat, I think probably that it’s fair to say that our expectations are different right now,” Dempsey said in an interview as he flew to Washington from London.
Asked whether he was talking about the differences between Israeli and U.S. expectations over sanctions, or differences in perspective about the future course of events, Dempsey said: “All of the above.” He did not elaborate.
In other words, despite assurances by everyone from Bibi Netanyahu on down that Israel is content to allow sanctions to work and isn’t yet ready to turn to the military option, this is false. Israel doesn’t believe sanctions will work and only believes that military force will achieve its objective. We knew from press reports that Leon Panetta had sought repeatedly an assurance from Ehud Barak and Netanyahu that Israel would inform its ally before attacking Iran, and the defense secretary did not get it. But this interview is the first direct confirmation by a senior U.S. figure that this is the case.
We should read into this that Israel will attack first and ask questions later. Its clear from this that the latter doesn’t believe in waiting to see if sanctions work and is prepared to attack now. It may hope and perhaps expect the U.S. to join in the attack after Israel begins it. But Israel is fully prepared to go it alone.
Of course, Dempsey may be posturing, hoping it might spook the Iranians to think that the Yanks are the cool-headed ones who can’t control the hot-blooded Israelis who’re liable to go off and do something stupid. But at this point, I don’t think anyone on either side is fooled by such things. It’s well past time for leaders to stop posturing and lay their cards on the table. I believe it’s more than likely that Dempsey truly does believe Israel will do a first-strike.
All this reveals the level of dysfunction in the U.S.-Israel relationship regarding Iran. Israel will pursue its own interests without regard to those of the U.S. This of course assumes Obama doesn’t want Israel to attack Iran. But there’s always the possibility that a president whose only real foreign policy successes have involved counter-terror victories like murdering Osama bin Laden in cold blood would be quite attracted by the idea of using military muscle to show the Ayatollahs a thing or two. That would mean that if Israel attacked, we’d likely do so as well. Time will tell.
At the time of the recent Isfahan nuclear enrichment plant explosion my own Israeli source could not confirm Israeli involvement. But he has now confirmed that this attack like the one on November 12th was another joint operation with Mossad and MEK. I asked him whether these attacks may no longer be part of a black ops program meant to substitute for a frontal military assault, but rather a deliberate degrading of the Iranian (and Hezbollah) arsenal in the lead-up to an Israeli attack. The thinking might be taking out as many Iranian missiles, IRG generals, etc. as possible before an Israeli strike would degrade Iran’s capability to respond with its own second strike.
I reported here that Sheera Frenkel wrote in the Times of conversations with Israeli intelligence officials who confirmed the attack was sabotage (though they were cagey about Israeli authorship). She also was shown satellite images of damage from the attack, which gives the lie to both Iranian and other sources who denied any explosion took place in Isfahan. Ynet reports that the Times actually displayed the photos with the story, but this is apparently false.
As far as my source knows, Tamir Pardo, the Mossad chief continues to believe, as did his predecessor Meir Dagan, that covert ops inside Iran will delay the country’s ability to secure WMD by at least a few years. A military attack is not the Israeli intelligence agency’s end game (though it may be Bibi’s). However, I should point out that even if this is true, these continued attacks would benefit Bibi and Barak if they succeed eventually in getting approval for a first strike. The less missiles Iran and Hezbollah have to fire at Israel, the weaker their response will be to Israel’s assault.