'Dempsey wasn’t sending message to Israel on Iran'

Former Pentagon official tells the 'Post' that comments were reflective of US respect for Israel's own decision-making process.

US General Martin Dempsey 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
US General Martin Dempsey 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – The US is not trying to signal Israel not to attack Iran or to indicate distance between the two allies over how to handle Tehran, former Pentagon officials close to the Obama administration told The Jerusalem Post on the sidelines of the Democratic convention on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, caused waves in Israel when he was quoted as saying in reference to a possible Israeli strike, “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.”
He also said that such an attack would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program,” adding that the “international coalition” pressuring Iran “could be undone if it was attacked prematurely.”
“They’re not a message to Israel,” Michele Flournoy, who served as the undersecretary of defense policy through February of this year, said of Dempsey’s statements.
She described his comments as coming in a context in which “it’s really the sense that the US respects that Israel will have its own decisions to make and Israel respects that the US will have its own decisions to make.”
Colin Kahl, who was the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East until last December, said Dempsey was “entitled to his professional military judgment” but was not someone who held a policy role.
“The president of the United States is the one who shapes our policy on Iran, and he’s made it clear that he’s in lockstep with Israel on the goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran,” Kahl told the Post.
Flournoy described US President Barack Obama as having been “very clear on the threats, on his determination to stop it, the fact that all options are on the table, that he doesn’t bluff.”
But she emphasized, “He’s also been very clear: In his judgment, in our US judgment, now is not yet the time” for an attack.
She also underscored the American belief that while each country could act alone, coordinated action would be best.
“The US belief, the administration’s belief, is that we will both be stronger if the international community as a community deals with this in a unified way,” Flournoy said. “But we recognize the sovereign nature of these decisions.”
Kahl, however, in speaking at an event organized by the Truman National Security Project at the convention Thursday, did note distinctions in US and Israeli considerations on Iran.
“The difference between the United States and Israel is not in the perception of the threat. The difference is, how long you can wait,” he said, explaining that since the Israeli military lacked the US’s capabilities, “the longer they wait, the less damage they might be able to do to the program.”
When it came to assessing the timeframe, he said that assessments on the months to year or more it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon – based on its ability to enrich enough uranium and to militarize its program – was not a countdown that had started yet.
“None of these timelines actually kick in until the supreme leader [Ali Khamenei] says go,” Kahl assessed. “There’s reason to believe that he hasn’t made that decision yet.”
He continued, “There’s reason to believe that he’s not likely to make that decision any time soon because he’s likely to get caught. And he doesn’t want to get caught because if he did get caught, he fears military action by the United States or other states.”
Kahl concluded, “Iran is not on the verge of having a nuclear weapon. It’s very, very problematic, but not on the verge.”