US says military options against Iran have improved

On a visit to Israel this week, top US general Dempsey says he ‘sensed agreement’ that sanctions are having an effect on Tehran

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz participate in an arrival ceremony at IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, August 13, 2013. (D. Myles Cullen, DOD)
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz participate in an arrival ceremony at IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, August 13, 2013. (D. Myles Cullen, DOD)

America’s military options for stopping Iran’s nuclear program have improved in the past year, America’s top general said Wednesday.

Speaking to The New York Times during a visit to the region this week, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said that since his last visit to the region last year, “we have better military options than we did a year ago. That’s because we’ve continued to refine them. We’ve continued to develop technology, we’ve continued to train and plan.”

He would not elaborate, according to the Times.

Dempsey was in Israel from Monday to Wednesday for meetings with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, before going on to meetings in Amman as part of a regional tour.

Dempsey said he “sensed agreement” between Israeli and American leaders that diplomatic initiatives and economic sanctions “were having an effect” on Iran.

The Israelis “of course want us to continue to present a credible military threat to support those diplomatic and economic efforts,” he said.

A year ago, Dempsey was quoted saying that he did not want to be “complicit” in an Israeli attack on Iran, which he said would damage but not destroy the country’s nuclear program. He added at the time that such a strike would undo international sanctions imposed on Tehran.

Iran is under stringent UN and Western sanctions for covertly pursuing a nuclear program and defying international inspections efforts. It is widely believed in the West to be working toward construction of nuclear weapons. Iran has said its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.

Judging by public statements in Israel, Dempsey’s visit appeared almost entirely focused on the Iranian issue. While the ongoing civil war in Syria and instability elsewhere in the region were discussed in Dempsey’s meetings with Israeli leaders, the message from Israel was clear.

“We have so many threats in the region, you know, that we’ll have to discuss,” Netanyahu said to Dempsey on Tuesday, “but one dwarfs everything else, and that is the threat of Iran getting nuclear weapons. We can work and will work together, are working together, to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

According to a Prime Minister’s Office statement, Netanyahu said he knew Dempsey shared Israel’s goals, including the goal of achieving peace, to which the US general assented.

Dempsey said he had also spent a productive day with the chief of staff, “talking about all those issues.” His visit was aimed at “recommitting and reemphasizing and reinforcing our partnership,” he said.

On Wednesday, Dempsey again heard Israel’s message on Iran, this time from the defense minister.

“The instability in the Middle East is due, in part, to the Iranian regime, which is involved in every conflict in the area,” Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff, told the visiting general. “We also need to be prepared for a prolonged conflict and instability in Syria. We must not let the Tehran-Damascus-Beirut axis of evil win this conflict.”

Dempsey offered reassurances that the US and Israel have common security interests in the region. ”I once again clarified to my Israeli partners our commitment to our joint security interests,” he said.

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 met with senior officers and defense personnel, including Gantz, and was hosted at air force bases throughout the country.

Also last week, Amos Yadlin, who served as chief of the IDF’s Intelligence Directorate from 2006 to 2010, said the American stance on an Israeli strike against Iran had changed dramatically recently.

“In 2012 the [Americans’] red light was as red as it can get, the brightest red,” Yadlin said in an interview with Army Radio. “But the music I’m hearing lately from Washington says, ‘If this is truly an overriding Israeli security interest, and you think you want to strike,’ then the light hasn’t changed to green, I think, but it’s definitely yellow.”

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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