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Terrorism & Security

Dempsey warns Israel that a unilateral strike wouldn't end Iran's nuclear program

The comments by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the top US military official, are the latest American attempt to tamp down Israeli war fervor, which is spiking after a new report on Iran's nuclear program.

By Staff writer / August 31, 2012



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Middle East Editor

Ariel Zirulnick is the Monitor's Middle East editor, overseeing regional coverage both for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She is also a contributor to the international desk's terrorism and security blog. 

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The top US military official reiterated Washington's opposition to a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran yesterday, saying that it would "clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran's nuclear program."

The comments by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey are only latest of months of such comments from top US officials, intended to tamp down heated rhetoric from Israeli officials about staging a unilateral strike on Iran. Gen. Dempsey himself has made similar statements in the past, although yesterday's were the firmest yet.

His comments came the same day that the International Atomic Energy Agency released its latest report on Iran's nuclear program, which stated that Iran has doubled its number of centrifuges and accelerated its nuclear fuel production – a clear sign that despite international pressure, it is moving forward with its nuclear development (although not a definitive sign that Iran has military intentions).

Speaking in London, Dempsey said that he did not know what Iran's intentions were – because intelligence does not provide such information – but that he did know that the international pressure on Iran was having an impact and an Israeli strike would cancel that progress, the Guardian reports.

"I don't want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it," he added.

The New York Times reports that the US has reminded Israeli officials repeatedly that, on its own, Israel lacks the military capability to destroy the key nuclear site at Fordow, which is underground and heavily reinforced. The US has the capability, but wants to give "diplomacy, sanctions, and sabotage" more time.

But yesterday's IAEA report "validated" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's stance that diplomacy and sanctions have failed to slow Iran's nuclear wok, and may even be forcing it to speed up, according to the Times.

But the agency’s report has also put Israel in a corner, documenting that Iran is close to crossing what Israel has long said is its red line: the capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack.

… Officials and experts here say the conclusions may force Israel to strike Iran or concede it is not prepared to act on its own.

Whether that ultimately leads to a change in strategy – or a unilateral attack – is something that even Israel’s inner circle cannot yet agree on, despite what seems to be a consensus that Iran’s program may soon be beyond the reach of Israel’s military capability.

“It leaves us at this dead end,” said a senior government official here, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is involved in the decision-making process. “The more time elapses with no change on the ground in terms of Iranian policies, the more it becomes a zero-sum game.”

Singling out the US, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said today that comments from world powers have led Iran to believe that it does not face a true risk of a military strike, Reuters reports.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters yesterday when asked about the IAEA report that the US has been firm that Iran has a limited amount of time to halt further nuclear work, Haaretz reports.

"The president has made clear frequently that he is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Mr. Carney said. "So long as the Iranian regime refuses to comply with its international obligations, the United States, with its allies, will continue to take actions to further isolate and penalize Iran and the regime."

Dov Zakheim, a former defense department official in the Bush administration, writes in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration's only goal regarding Iran right now is "delaying anything from happening in the Middle East before Election Day."

As for the impasse with Iran, here too, the key to achieving American objectives is the credibility of American pronouncements.  There is more than Washington can do as it attempts win the trust of Israel's key decision makers on any Israeli attack…. Supplying missile defense systems is simply not enough for a nation that cannot tolerate even the most minimal probability that a nuclear weapon could penetrate those defenses.

Washington's willingness to look the other way [as other countries flout sanctions on Iran] further intensifies Israeli fears that, at the end of the day, Iran will develop a nuclear capability while America and the West wring their hands.

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