Amid rising tension over Iran’s nuclear program, Gen. Martin Dempsey,
chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, called to increase cooperation with
Israel, during a visit to the country over the weekend.
Dempsey focused on ways to increase cooperation, particularly amid fears in the
US that the Netanyahu government is considering launching a strike against Iran
in the coming months.
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“We have many interests in common in the region in
this very dynamic time and the more we can continue to engage each other, the
better off we’ll all be,” Dempsey told IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen.
Gantz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the beginning of their meeting at the
Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Friday.
“There is never a dull moment,
that I can promise you,” responded Barak.
During his meetings on Friday
morning at the General Staff Headquarters in Tel Aviv, Dempsey was briefed by
Gantz and OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi on Israel’s
assessments of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
Another topic discussed with
Dempsey – and raised earlier in the week by Gantz during his visit to NATO
headquarters in Brussels – is the continued smuggling of arms by Iran to its
terrorist proxies in the region.
Israel hopes for increased international
cooperation in the war on smuggling, and looks to the US to spearhead those
Dempsey’s visit came amid rising tension between Jerusalem and
Washington over Israeli frustration with the US and Europe’s reluctance to
impose tougher economic sanctions on Iran.
During his talks with Israel’s
military and political leadership, Dempsey tried to reassure Israel that the
Obama administration is committed to stopping Iran’s nuclear program, even if it
ultimately comes down to using military force.
While there are
differences between the countries as to the type of steps that need to be taken
to stop Iran, Israel and the US share the same intelligence assessments
regarding the status of Iran’s nuclear program and that while Iran has mastered
all of the technology it requires to build a nuclear weapon, the regime has yet
to make the decision to do so.
During a visit to Jerusalem on Friday,
Dempsey toured Yad Vashem and placed a wreath in honor of the six million
In brief remarks after the tour, Dempsey noted the
significance of the date – 70 years to the day since the Wannsee Conference held
near Berlin, where senior Nazi officials discussed the Final
“We are committed to ensuring that such a human tragedy never
happens again,” Dempsey wrote in the museum’s visitor book.
his visit on Thursday night when he and his wife, Deanie, met Gantz and his
wife, Revital, for dinner in Jaffa. Before sitting down to eat, Gantz surprised
Dempsey with a performance by the IDF Orchestra, which played Frank Sinatra’s
“New York, New York.”
Dempsey is a Sinatra fan and often sings at
military ceremonies. After dinner, instead of returning to his hotel, the
Dempseys spent an hour touring Jaffa together with the Gantzes. Military sources
said Gantz would likely travel to the US for continued talks with Dempsey in the
In a related development, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps
said on Saturday it considered the likely return of US warships to the Gulf part
of routine activity, backing away from previous warnings to Washington not to
re-enter the area.
The statement may be seen as an effort to reduce
tensions after Washington said it would respond if Iran made good on a threat to
block the Strait of Hormuz – the vital shipping lane for oil exports from the
“US warships and military forces have been in the Persian Gulf and
the Middle East region for many years and their decision in relation to the
dispatch of a new warship is not a new issue and it should be interpreted as
part of their permanent presence,” Revolutionary Guard Deputy Commander Hossein
Salami told the official IRNA news agency.
The apparently conciliatory
comments may be a response to the European Union and Washington’s rejection of
Iran’s declaration that it was close to resuming negotiations with world powers
and with the Pentagon saying it did not expect any challenge to its
Crude oil prices have spiked several times this year over fears
that diplomatic tensions could escalate to military clashes as well as
uncertainty about the effect of sanctions on the market.
Along with the
EU, which is set to agree on an embargo on Iranian oil next week, Washington
hopes the sanctions will force Iran to suspend the nuclear activities it
believes are aimed at making a nuclear bomb.
There has been no American
aircraft carrier in the Gulf since the USS John C. Stennis left at the end of
December at a time when the Revolutionary Guard was conducting naval
On January 3, after President Barack Obama signed new
sanctions aimed at stopping Iran’s oil exports, Tehran told the USS Stennis not
to return – an order interpreted by some observers in Iran and Washington as a
blanket threat to any US carrier.
“I recommend and emphasize to the
American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf,” Iran’s army chief,
Ataollah Salehi, said at the time.
“We are not in the
habit of warning more than once.”
Washington says it will return to the
Gulf, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said any move to block Hormuz would be
seen as a “red line,” requiring a response.
Citing operational security,
the Pentagon will not say when the next carrier will return to the Gulf but
officials say it is only a matter of time and they do not expect any
In the coming days or weeks, the Revolutionary Guard will begin
new naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf. Salami told IRNA these
would go ahead as planned in the Iranian month of Bahman, which runs from
January 21 to February 19.
Iran has said it is ready to return to talks
with world powers that stalled one year ago, but the West, concerned about
Tehran’s move of the most sensitive atomic work to a bombproof bunker, says it
must first see a willingness from Tehran to address the nuclear
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday that “time is
running out” for a diplomatic solution and urged Russia and China to drop their
opposition to sanctions on Iranian oil.
Iran is OPEC’s second-biggest
exporter and blocking its crude exports – through the EU embargo or US moves to
punish banks that trade with Iran – could have a devastating impact on its
economy, but there are no signs such pressure would force it to stop exercising
what it calls its peaceful nuclear rights.
Major powers signaled on
Friday their willingness to reopen talks about curbing Iran’s suspected pursuit
of nuclear weapons but said Tehran must show it is serious about
Diplomats said they remained divided on their approach,
notably on whether to let Iran keep enriching uranium at some level.
group, known as the P5+1, and as the EU3+3, is made up of Britain, China,
France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
EU foreign policy chief
Catherine Ashton, who represents the group, issued a statement making clear that
a diplomatic path remained open to Iran, despite tougher sanctions and fresh
speculation of a military strike on its nuclear facilities.
has always been clear about the validity of the dual-track approach,” Ashton’s
representative said in a statement that included her October 21 letter to the
Iranians laying out the possibility of talks. “We are waiting for the Iranian
The release of the statement and letter appeared to reflect
frustration at Iran’s statements hinting at a willingness to resume talks but
Tehran’s failure to formally respond to the letter and commit to discussing the
nuclear program in earnest.