The threat of Iran attaining nuclear weapons “dwarfs” the other security challenges facing Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday night, at the start of talks with the visiting US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey.
“We have so many threats in the region, you know, that we’ll have to discuss,” Netanyahu said to Dempsey, “but one dwarfs everything else, and that is the threat that Iran gets nuclear weapons. We can work and will work together, are working together, to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
He said he knew Dempsey shared Israel’s goals, including the goal of achieving peace, to which the US general assented. Dempsey, who arrived on Monday, said he had spent a productive day with IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, “talking about all those issues.”
His visit was aimed at “recommitting and reemphasizing and reinforcing our partnership,” he said.
In what is his third visit to Israel, Dempsey has been holding discussions on regional cooperation and strengthening military ties between Israel and the US with top officials including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Last week, Gen. Mark Welsh, the chief of staff of the US Air Force, completed a secret visit to Israel that was only reported after he had left the country. Welsh was in Israel August 4 to 8 as the guest of the commander of the Israeli Air Force, Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel. During his visit, Welsh met with senior officers and defense personnel, including Gantz, and was hosted at air force bases throughout the country.
With at least some Lebanese Hezbollah forces tied down in the fighting in Syria, and the organization experiencing political blowback in Lebanon for its support of the Assad regime, the US may be concerned that Israeli leaders believe the cost of an Iran strike — especially in terms of rocket strikes on Israeli cities from across the border — has dropped.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu upped his rhetoric against Iran’s nuclear program, citing Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s anti-Israel oratory as proof of his hawkish views.
“Two days ago, the president of Iran said that ‘Israel is a wound in the Muslim body.’ The president of Iran might have changed, but the regime’s intentions did not,” Netanyahu said at the time. “Iran intends to develop nuclear capabilities and nuclear weapons in order to annihilate the State of Israel, and that’s a danger not only for us or the Middle East, but for the whole world. We are all responsible for preventing it.”
A report by the US-based Institute for Science and International Security two weeks ago said that Iran could break out to a nuclear bomb by mid-2014 if it went ahead with a plan to install thousands of new centrifuges.
Last August, Dempsey demonstrated the gap between the Israeli and American sense of urgency over the Iranian nuclear program when he told a press conference in London that an Israeli strike would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program. I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.”
He said that intelligence was inconclusive when it came to Iran’s intentions. An American-led international sanctions regime “could be undone if [Iran] was attacked prematurely,” he added.