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Bridget Johnson

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February 19, 2012 - 10:23 am

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in an interview aired Sunday that the administration has told Israel it’s “not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran.”

But he also admitted that the U.S. doesn’t see Tehran as a threat in the same light as Tel Aviv does.

“I mean, that’s been our counsel to our allies, the Israelis, well known and well documented,” Gen. Martin Dempsey said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” of Washington’s advice to withhold military action. “And we also know or believe we know that the Iranian regime has not decided that they will embark on the capability — or the effort to weaponize their nuclear capability.”

This differs from Israel’s assessment as Tel Aviv prepares for possible action to keep Iran from getting the bomb.

“Iran is not only building a bomb and threatening to destroy our people, the government of Iran today is the headquarters of terrorism, of hatred and of war, and will not spare any effort to attempt to kill and to destroy,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said last week. “The Iranian government does not have a future because it does not promise a future. We shall meet the Iranian dangers as it should be done – with the maximum effort to make the region secure and peaceful.”

Dempsey said the possibility of a retaliatory strike by Tehran is “the question with which we all wrestle.”

“We are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor,” the chairman said. “And it’s for that reason, I think, that we think the current path [of sanctions and diplomacy] we’re on is the most prudent path at this point.”

The White House sent National Security Adviser Tom Donilon to Israel on Saturday to engage in “consultations” through Monday “with senior Israeli officials about a range of issues, including Iran, Syria, and other regional security issues.”

“National Security Advisor Donilon’s travel is the latest in a series of regular, high-level consultations between the United States and Israel, consistent with our strong bilateral partnership, and part of our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security,” the White House said in a vague statement.

Iran recently sent a brief letter to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressing willingness to engage in new talks with the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) and bring “new initiatives” — on which they didn’t elaborate — to the table.

“If Iran chooses a path of honoring its international obligations and working with the international community to remove the world’s concerns about its development of a nuclear weapons program, then there is an opportunity for Iran to work its way out of the corner here — the corner that its behavior has led them into,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Thursday.

The danger is that Iran could just be stalling for time.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that “Iran is poised to greatly expand uranium enrichment at a fortified underground bunker to a point that would boost how quickly it could make nuclear warheads,” according to anonymous senior diplomats.

Dempsey said Washington has had a “very candid collaborative conversation” with Israel about U.S. concerns.

“I also understand that Israel has national interests that are unique to them,” the general said. “And, of course, they consider Iran to be an existential threat in a way that we have not concluded that Iran is an existential threat. So 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.”

“If you were a betting man, would you bet that Israel won’t strike?” Zakaria asked.

“Well, fortunately, I’m not a betting man,” Dempsey responded.

Bridget Johnson is a career journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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