J'lem puzzled by Dempsey comment on Iran strike

Dempsey said he did not want to be 'complicit' in strike; Israeli source says comment doesn't represent White House position.

By REUTERS
September 2, 2012 01:01
US Air Force F-15E releases a GBU-28 Bunker Buster

US Air Force F-15E releases a GBU-28 "Bunker Buster" 390. (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)

A senior government official on Saturday characterized as “strange” a recent statement by US military chief Gen. Martin Dempsey that he would not want to be “complicit” in an Israeli attack on Iran.

“Dempsey’s comments are strange in that they would seem to contradict the continual statements from the White House that the security and defense cooperation between Israel and the US has never been as close,” the senior official said.

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Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was quoted last week as saying again that an Israeli attack could delay, but not halt, Iran’s nuclear program.

“I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it,” Dempsey said.

“These comments are also a bit strange, because they were said in a week when the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] released a report that seemed to confirm all of Israel’s concerns, and during a week where the international effort to isolate Iran and subject it to international pressure took a severe blow with the Non-Aligned Movement conference in Tehran,” the senior government official said.

Despite disagreements, Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor said on Saturday that both the US and Israel agreed that if Iran made the political decision to put together a nuclear bomb, it would still take 18 months to two years for it to be able to assemble one.

Meridor, speaking on Channel 2’s Meet the Press program, said the level of intelligence sharing between the US and Israel was unprecedented, and that there was no disagreement with the assessment that Iran was not on the immediate verge of being able to put together a bomb, even if it made the decision to do so.

But, he added, Tehran had not given up its efforts, and was continuing to flout its commitment to the IAEA and the UN.

Amid the disagreements between Jerusalem and Washington over whether Iran needed to be stopped before it had acquired all components for a bomb (Israel’s position), or only once it started putting the bomb together, Meridor said US President Barack Obama’s statement that he was committed to preventing Iran from getting a bomb, and would not be satisfied by containment of a nuclear Iran, needed to be taken seriously.

When told by his interviewer that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was not sure whether Obama would deter Iran, Meridor replied, “No one is certain of anything.

But [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei is not sure they will not do it. If I was Khamenei I would be worried after a declaration like that.”

Meridor said the reason the Iranians had not “broken out” yet was “because they are afraid of the international campaign... They are afraid of what could be a grave response from the world. Sanctions, war or other things.”

Meridor denied a Yediot Aharonot story on Friday that Netanyahu got into a diplomatic shouting match with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro over Obama’s handling of the nuclear crisis. According to the report, Netanyahu said, “Time has run out” for diplomacy, and that instead of effectively pressuring Iran, Obama was pressuring Israel not to attack its nuclear facilities.

According to the report, the exchange took place a week ago Friday during a meeting with visiting Republican Congressman Mike Rogers. Yediot reported that at a certain point, as “sparks flew” in the room, Shapiro responded politely but firmly that Netanyahu was distorting Obama’s position.

“I heard from the Prime Minister’s Office that there was nothing to this report,” Meridor said. “That it was not true.”

Neither senior sources contacted in the Prime Minister’s Office nor at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv would comment on the story.

White House spokesman Jay Carney – responding to comments made by US presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in Florida on Thursday evening about Obama’s ineffectiveness in dealing with Iran – said that under Obama, “cooperation with Israel between our military and intelligence communities has never been closer, assistance provided to Israel by the United States has never been greater.”

Meanwhile, two Israeli politicians weighed in on the Iran debate on Saturday. Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid came out against a military strike on Iran, at least in the near future, and former minister and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi said the threat of an Israeli attack was real.

“It’s true that when the moment of ‘bomb or be bombed’ arrives, Israel will have to act,” Lapid said at a cultural event in Holon. “But we are far from that. Such is the assessment from the Israeli professionals and from the Americans. Acting before you have to is irresponsible.”

Hanegbi, speaking in Kiryat Motzkin, said the American threat of military action was the most credible. At the same time, he said, “the American threat is one that is abstract, and it doesn’t necessarily translate to any promise for concrete action, and that might be why the Iranians are disdaining and ignoring it.”

Hanegbi continued: “In my opinion, the Israeli military threat is not an empty one.”

In a related development, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon defended on Friday his visit to Iran last week, saying he used it to push hard for human rights and transparency from Tehran over its nuclear program.

Netanyahu had lobbied hard against the visit, saying Ban’s going to Tehran would give legitimacy to Iran and be a stain both on him and on the UN.

But Ban, speaking in Dubai before flying back to UN headquarters in New York, said, “I believe in the power of diplomacy and I believe in dialogues and I believe in engagement.

This is exactly what I did during my visit to Tehran.”

While conceding he was not always satisfied with the responses of Iranian leaders he spoke to last week, he rejected the argument that he played into Tehran’s hands by attending the summit Iran used to raise its diplomatic profile.

“I think that it should not have been controversial,” he said. “As a secretary-general of the United Nations, I have a mandate to engage with all the member states of the United Nations.”

Before the summit, Washington made clear it wanted Ban to boycott the event. “Iran is going to manipulate this opportunity and the attendees to try to deflect attention from its own failings,” a State Department spokeswoman said.

Ban appeared to go out of his way in Tehran to avoid being seen as endorsing Iranian policies. On Thursday, he discomfited his hosts by publicly denouncing as “outrageous” Iranian threats against Israel and claims that the Holocaust never took place.

In public comments later, Ban urged the Iranian leadership to release opposition leaders and political activists to create the conditions for free expression and open debate.

But his criticism possibly had little effect on public opinion within the country. Local media reported his comments selectively, focusing on references to Iran’s importance in the world and generally omitting critical remarks.

Ban said on Friday that he also used meetings with Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to push for change in the country: “I made a very strong push on the nuclear issues and when it came to human rights issues, again I made it quite clear,” he said.

Ban said he told Iranian leaders that they had a responsibility to do more to assure the world that their nuclear program was for solely peaceful purposes. The leaders’ responses were not always satisfactory, he added.

“In some questions they were trying to explain their positions, particularly when it comes to nuclear issues,” he said. “They were not giving me any concrete answers.”

Jerusalem Post Staff and Reuters contributed to this report.


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