US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey on Tuesday told a Senate panel he did not counsel Israel against attacking Iran over its nuclear program.
“We’ve had a conversation with them about time, the issue of time," Dempsey said, referring to his visit to Israel a month ago.
Grilled during a Senate Budget Committee meeting, Dempsey also defended his comment that Iran was a rational actor from Senator Lindsey Graham.
“We can’t afford to underestimate our potential adversaries by writing them off as irrational,” Dempsey said.
Asked pointedly by Graham if a military strike by the US was off the table, Dempsey responded, “Absolutely not."
He stressed the danger of nuclear weapons reaching terrorist groups and the beginning of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East involving countries threatened by Iran.
Observers say Graham's decision to corner Dempsey in committee and on the record on Israel and Iran wasn’t surprising.
Earlier this month, Dempsey said in a CNN interview that an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would be imprudent, destabilizing and would not achieve Israel's long-term objectives.
Those comments led Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to charge Dempsey as being "unwilling to aid Israel" in ensuring Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu said Dempsey's comments "served Iran."
Within hours Graham and fellow Senator John McCain, who had just met with Netanyahu, took Dempsey to task.
Graham told reporters that, while he respected Dempsey, “Obviously it’s not helpful if there is a well-publicized tension between the US and Israel. We would like to see the United States and Israel agree on a course of action that will lead us toward a goal we both share.”
"People are giving Israel a lot of advice here lately from America,” Graham said. “I just want to tell our Israeli friends that my advice to you is never lose control of your destiny."
"Never allow a situation to develop that would destroy the Jewish state," he added.
Standing next to Graham, McCain said, “There should be no daylight between America and Israel in our assessment of the [Iranian] threat.”
“Unfortunately there clearly is some,” added the Senator.
Over the weekend, McCain lashed out at the Obama administration’s handling of rising tensions between Israel and Iran.
McCain told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the administration intentionally leaked to the media the reason for the US national security adviser’s trip to Israel – to try to persuade the country not to attack Iran.
“The prime minister has every reason to be upset,” McCain said. “I can understand why relations are in very bad shape right now.”
They have also taken the unprecedented step of siding with Iran in accusing Israel of supporting the People's Mujahadeen of Iran in an assassination campaign targeting Iranian nuclear scientists.