The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey is expected to visit Israel at the end of the upcoming joint missile defense exercise in late October, Israeli sources revealed on Sunday.
“Austere Challenge 12″ is set to be the largest-ever exercise of its kind, involving some 1,500 soldiers from the Israeli and American armies. The exercise is expected to go on for approximately two weeks, and while Dempsey’s visit has not yet been officially confirmed, Israeli sources were quoted by Maariv as saying that they expected him to be in Israel at the end of the exercise.
If he does come to Israel, Dempsey will join Adm. James Stavridis, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). The visit will take place about one week before the US elections are held on November 6.
Tensions between the US and Israel have been on the rise in recent months over the appropriate course of action to thwart the Iranian nuclear drive. Israel has pushed the US to declare a “red line” for Tehran — a point after which there would be military action rather than sanctions — while the US has reiterated the need to continue pressuring Iran through diplomatic means, reserving a military strike as a last resort.
One unnamed Israeli source said Dempsey’s visit would be politically significant in that it would underline the depth of security ties between Israel and the US. In August, the longstanding relationship between the two allies was called into question when Dempsey called on Israel not to attack Iran, saying that he would not want to be “complicit” in such a strike.
Tensions between the US and Israel also increased when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the UN General Assembly in late September and was unable to arrange a sit-down with President Barack Obama. US officials attempted to downplay the lack of a meeting, saying that Obama did not arrange individual meetings with any world leaders during the General Assembly. Israeli officials, however, interpreted Obama’s refusal to meet as a response to continued Israeli pressure regarding Iran.
In late September, Obama reiterated in an interview on “60 Minutes” that his working relationship with the Israeli prime minister was very good. “I understand and share Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insistence that Iran should not obtain a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.