Analysis: Iran, Syria, Egypt likely to dominate talks between Dempsey and Gantz

US military chief likely to gauge Israeli intentions regarding Iran's nuclear program, and possibly push Jerusalem to refrain from dramatic decisions in near future, in order to give diplomacy with Rouhani a chance.

Gantz receiving US Legion of Merit from Dempsey 370 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
Gantz receiving US Legion of Merit from Dempsey 370
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, will arrive in Israel next week for a series of important security talks with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz and Israeli leaders.
The precise nature of the talks with Dempsey is unknown, but a number of top-priority issues can be expected to dominate the discussions.
First on the agenda will almost certainly be Iran, which is continuing to make progress in its nuclear program, irrespective of the election of a new president.
Israel is concerned that the international community may be taking its eye off the Iranian nuclear ball, due to the moderate image of President Hassan Rouhani, described by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and because of the ongoing regional turmoil acting as a distraction.
Netanyahu has signaled that Israel’s patience is running out, telling CBS last month that Jerusalem will “not wait until it’s too late” to take military action if need be to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Iran installed thousands of new-generation centrifuges for uranium enrichment at its facilities in Natanz and Fordow, and, according to the IAEA, has amassed 190 kilograms of medium-enriched uranium, edging dangerously close to Netanyahu’s red line of 250 kilograms of enriched uranium.
Additionally, Iran is making good progress on its alternative route to nuclear weapons, plutonium, via its heavy water reactor in Arak.
The Wall Street Journal quoted American and European officials based at the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna on Monday as noting with surprise the remarkable progress made by Iran at Arak. The officials said that when the work is complete, Arak could be used to produce two nuclear bombs a year, with the first bomb complete by next summer.
Dempsey might use the visit to gauge Israeli intentions, and possibly to try and convince Israel to refrain from dramatic decisions in the near future, in order to give diplomacy with Rouhani a chance.
The issue of Syria will likely form the second item on the agenda.
Israel is closely monitoring developments north of the border, where thousands of foreign fighters have joined the ranks of al-Qaida-affiliated Syrian rebel groups fighting with other rebels to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. Israel’s policy on Syria for the time being remains limited to the prevention of the proliferation of strategic weapons from Syria to Hezbollah.
Dempsey has been crystal clear on his opposition to US involvement in Syria, arguing that it could empower radicals further, and risk the security of chemical weapons in the Assad regime’s possession, while dragging Washington into a regional conflict with unknown consequences.
His feelings on reports of alleged Israeli low signature strikes to prevent the transfer of Iranian and Russian arms to Hezbollah are unknown, though it is reasonable to expect that he will use the visit to continue close coordination between the IDF and the US military on Syria.
Both Israel and the US seem to agree that containing the conflict with minimum intervention is the best policy for the time being. But Israel may not be able to stick to such a policy in the event of Assad’s fall, due to the need to secure or destroy dangerous chemical arms and prevent jihadi elements from taking control of them.
The military chiefs can also be expected to discuss the situation in Egypt, where the army has ejected the Muslim Brotherhood from power, but is struggling to stabilize the country.
The jihadi terrorist bases in the Sinai Peninsula form an ongoing regional security threat, and the radicals are intent on attacking the Egyptian military in Sinai and launching cross-border attacks on Israel, in a bid to undermine the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
Hezbollah’s heavy-handed intervention in Syria, and its increasingly tenuous position in Lebanon should also feature in the discussions.
Alongside these issues, close Israeli-US cooperation on missile defense, as exemplified by the 2012 joint air defense exercise held in Israel (named Austere Challenge 12 – the largest drill of its kind), will probably be discussed.