(August 20, 2012 / JNS) While Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren downplayed the reportedly widening gap between Washington and Jerusalem’s positions regarding the necessity and timing of possible military action against Iran’s nuclear program, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said on Sunday that the two countries have “different clocks” regarding the nuclear threat.
According to a report by the French agency Agence France Presse, Dempsey said that Israel views the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program “more urgently” than the U.S.
“They [Israel] are living with an existential concern that we are not living with,” Dempsey was quoted as saying.
While Israeli officials say the threshold for military action against Iran is the point just before Iran becomes a nuclear power—namely, the stage at which Iran becomes capable of assembling a bomb—the Americans believe that the Iranians must be stopped only at the point in which they decide to actually build the bomb. In other words, the U.S. views the threshold as the point in which Iran has already attained the capability and begins constructing a nuclear warhead.
But Oren said Saturday that he had not felt the U.S. administration was pressuring Israel to refrain from acting against Iran’s nuclear weapons project.
“The Americans hear the threats made by Iran’s leaders, who want to destroy Israel. It is clear to me that the Americans are asking themselves, ‘What would we do in their place?’” he told Israel Hayom. “If Israel ultimately decides to take action against Iran, we will receive extremely widespread support from the American people and Congress, and President [Barack] Obama will continue to recognize our right to defend ourselves on our own. It won’t create a rift with the United States.”
According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll from March, 42 percent of Americans would support Israel’s bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, and 51 percent would oppose such action.
Dempsey, who spoke to reporters at the start of a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq, reiterated his previous assessment that Israeli military action could delay, but not destroy, Iran’s nuclear program. “I may not know about all of their capabilities but I think that it’s a fair characterization to say that they could delay but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities,” he recently said at a joint press briefing with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The head of the U.S. military said that he consults with Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz on a regular basis, once every two weeks.
“We compare intelligence, we discuss regional implications. And we’ve admitted to each other that our clocks are turning at different rates,” Dempsey said of his relationship with Gantz.
“You can take two countries and interpret the same intelligence and come out with two different conclusions. I’d suggest to you that’s what’s really happening here,” Dempsey added.
Dempsey also said that the U.S. military felt no pressure from Israel to back possible bombing raids.
Oren is convinced that the U.S. will not break its alliance with Israel.
“The American Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, said they would stand by Israel if it is attacked with missiles,” he said.
The ambassador added that “the upcoming U.S. elections aren’t a factor when considering the Iranian issue.”
According to Oren, the only question is “the responsibility for the security of Israel, which lies with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government. It is a responsibility that no sovereign country would cast on another country, even if that country is its best friend in the world, like the U.S. is to Israel.”
Hanegbi: No clear commitment to launch military action against Iran
Former head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzachi Hanegbi on Sunday rejected recent comments by Israeli President Shimon Peres that Obama could be trusted to prevent the Islamic republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.
“I don’t believe that there is any American analyst, and certainly no Israeli analyst that I know of, who thinks that the statements made up until now—whether in public by the president or his associates, or in private discussions—allow us to deduce that the Americans have committed to acting belligerently, i.e., to taking military action against Iran’s nuclear program,” Hanegbi said in an interview on Channel 1.
“The American president, like every cautious and restrained president, does not bind the interests of the United States to the interests of another country,” he said. “[The Americans] say they are not taking the military option off the table, but I don’t see the Americans using it in the foreseeable future.”
Hanegbi, who recently switched back from the Kadima party to Likud and has reportedly become closer to Netanyahu, also disagreed with Peres’ assessment that Israel could not carry out independent military action against Iran.
“My position is that Israel is capable of achieving major accomplishments,” Hanegbi said. “If the alternative is to accept a nuclear Iran—this is intolerable in my view.”