The top-ranking U.S. military official is pressing Israel not to attack Iran, but is uncertain whether they will heed the pleas.
The comments by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey on Sunday come as tensions in the Middle East and Washington have risen to new levels over Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology and the country’s willingness to carry out attacks on the U.S. and its allies, such as Israel.
Israel blamed Hezbollah and Iran this week for a series of bomb attacks against Israeli diplomats and citizens in India and Georgia, as well as another failed attempt in Thailand, saying they signal a new wave of terrorist attacks. Iran has denied any involvement with the bombings.
Dempsey emphasized that Israel hasn’t made any guarantees to the U.S. as to whether it was planning to attack nearby Iran, saying that they have the military means to not only launch strikes but also to halt most of the country’s nuclear production. There are several areas in Iran that are probably out of Israel’s reach, he said.
“I wouldn't suggest, sitting here today, that we've persuaded them that our view is the correct view and that they are acting in an ill-advised fashion,” he said of Israel. “But we've had a very candid collaborative conversation. We've shared intelligence. And I was in Israel about three weeks ago and spent two days there with the senior leaders. And so we’re continuing that dialogue.”
Top U.S. intelligence officials told senators this week that Iran is only likely to attack the U.S. or its allies if it is provoked, but an increasing number of lawmakers are calling for the U.S. to consider military action against Iran as a pre-emptive measure.
Senior U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, have said all options are on the table when considering military action towards Iran. But President Obama has reiterated his commitment to using a series of oil and financial sanctions to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Dempsey expressed his concern about what would happen if Israel did launch a strike against Iran and whether the U.S. would be vulnerable to retaliatory actions.
“That's the question with which we all wrestle,” he said. “And the reason that we think that it's not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran.”
The debate over Iran has entered the presidential campaign in full force, with Republicans criticizing Obama for not devoting enough money to aid Israel, especially in light of the looming threat.
“Probably President Obama's worst act as president has been on foreign policy,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who made a brief bid for the GOP’s presidential nomination last year.
“His strategic blunder is putting distance between the United States and Israel that has a far incalculable level of detriment to the United States and our safety.”
The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and the House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.) also blasted Obama for his budget proposal this year, writing in a letter that the $6 million decrease in funding for an Israeli missile defense system was unconscionable.
“We are deeply concerned that at a time of rising threats to our strongest ally in the Middle East, the administration is requesting record-low support for this vital defense cooperation program,” they wrote.
But, as an Associated Press report revealed, the criticisms do not take into account the more than $3 billion in military aid Obama’s budget proposes for Israel, which is nearly a $1 billion increase.