If there is one phrase that makes me more uneasy than “we’re from the government and we are here to help you”, it is “we are from the United States Government and we are here to reassure you”. I have no doubt that the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey is sincere in his pronouncements; I am just rather wary of the Obama Administration’s motives in sending him to Israel at this specific time with this specific message, especially as it is no secret that the Americans would like Israel to hold off on attacking Iran.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, began his round of meetings with Israel’s top military and political leadership on Friday with a clear message – coordination and dialogue is the key to improving Israel’s security standing in the region.
“We have many interests in common in the region in this very dynamic time and the more we can continue to engage each other, the better off we’ll all be,” Dempsey told IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the beginning of their meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Friday. Barak responded saying, “There is never a dull moment. That I can promise you”.
Dempsey also assured Gantz of US commitment to Israel: “The simplest message of all, my presence here, I hope reflects the commitment we have with each other and I’m here to assure you that’s the case.”
“I do know that both our countries share the same interests and values, and I’m sure that we can somehow work it out together,” Gantz said to his US counterpart earlier in the conversation, seemingly referring to the issue of the Iranian nuclear threat.
Dempsey, the US’s most senior military officer, arrived in Israel late Thursday night for talks that are aimed at getting the IDF and the government to put the brakes on plans to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. The US is hoping that Israel will move attack plans to the back burner and give diplomacy and sanctions more time to have an effect on the Iranian regime.
The US army chief’s visit comes amid rising tension between Jerusalem and Washington over Israeli frustration with the US and Europe’s reluctance to impose tougher economic sanctions on Iran.
He is expected to try and reassure Israel that the Obama administration is committed to stopping Iran’s nuclear program, even if it ultimately comes down to using military force. Top US officials have recently said that the US will not allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon.
While there are differences between the countries as to the type of steps that need to be taken to stop Iran, both Israel and the US share the same intelligence assessments regarding the status of Iran’s nuclear program.
In related news, it appears that the huge joint US-Israel missile defense exercise, due to have taken place in the spring but whose postponement (not cancellation apparently) was announced earlier this week, was delayed at Israel’s request.
According to Jeffrey Goldberg:
Despite claims made in the Israeli press that the Obama Administration, worried about provoking Iran, initiated a postponement of a massive joint Israeli-U.S. missile defense exercise scheduled to begin later this month, Pentagon officials say it was the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, who asked his counterpart, Leon Panetta, for the postponement. The claim that the exercise, dubbed “Austere Challenge 12,” was scrubbed from the calendar because the Obama Administration feared provoking the Iranian regime is “baseless,” one senior Pentagon official told me just a few minutes ago, in a telephone call initiated by a group of senior defense officials.
One of the senior defense officials told me this: “Minister Barak called Secretary Panetta and asked if we could take the exercise off the calendar. The Israelis were concerned that they did not have the resources in place to carry it out effectively.” The exercise, which was to begin with a live-fire drill, would have involved several thousand Israelis as well as several thousand American military personnel, and Barak told Panetta, according to these officials, that Israel could not pull together the resources necessary to stage the exercise successfully. “Our military is much bigger than theirs and this exercise was going to consume a much larger portion of their resources,” the official said.
Jeffrey Goldberg further reports that Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren confirmed this report.
These are definitely unsettling times. It would be proper to improve coordination of sensitive declarations like these to avoid giving a morale-boost to our enemies.