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Top U.S. Gen.: Israel, U.S. See Iranian Threat Differently

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey: Israel sees the Iranian threat differently. It's existential to them.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 1/27/2012, 3:15 AM

The current U.S.-led push to force Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions through steadily increasing economic and diplomatic pressure is beginning to show results and it would be “premature” to resort to military force, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said on Thursday.

In an interview with the American weekly National Journal, Dempsey said that the U.S. remained committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and was prepared to use force if necessary. He cautioned, however, that a conflict with Iran would destabilize the region and potentially have a severe economic impact on the U.S.

“I do think the path we're on—the economic sanctions and the diplomatic pressure—does seem to me to be having an effect,” Dempsey told National Journal. “I just think that it’s premature to be deciding that the economic and diplomatic approach is inadequate.”

He added, “A conflict with Iran would be really destabilizing, and I'm not just talking from the security perspective. It would be economically destabilizing.”

Dempsey, who made the comments just one week after his visit to Israel, said he delivered a similar message of caution to Israel's top leadership during last week’s high-level talks. He admitted that he and the Israelis each argued their positions “aggressively” during the talks, but conceded that the two sides see the threat very differently.

“We have to acknowledge that they ... see that threat differently than we do. It’s existential to them,” he said. “My intervention with them was not to try to persuade them to my thinking or allow them to persuade me to theirs, but rather to acknowledge the complexity and commit to seeking creative solutions, not simple solutions.”

Dempsey said he and the military supported the administration's determination to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon by any means necessary. He said the U.S. was increasing its economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran while making  preparations—if there was no other option—for a possible military intervention into the country.

“We are determined to prevent them from acquiring that weapon, but that doesn't mean dropping bombs necessarily,” he said. “I personally believe that we should be in the business of deterring as the first priority.”

The London Times reported this week that Israeli officials told Dempsey that Israel would give President Barack Obama no more than 12 hours notice if and when it attacks Iran.

The Netanyahu government also will not coordinate with the United States an attack on the Islamic Republic, according to the report.