Dempsey, Panetta Play Down Israeli Strike in Iran

General Dempsey says an Israeli strike won't destroy Iran's nukes, as Panetta says he believes Israel hasn't yet decided to attack.

Elad Benari ,

Leon Panetta
Leon Panetta

Two of the most senior officials in the United States attempted on Tuesday to play down a possible Israeli attack in Iran.

The two, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, spoke to reporters at the Pentagon.

“I might not be aware of all their capabilities, but I think it is a fair assessment that [Israel] can delay but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities,” Dempsey said during the joint press briefing with Panetta.

Panetta said he did not believe that Israel made a decision regarding an attack on Iran. “Israel is a sovereign independent state, and it should make the decision based to its national security, but I do not believe they have made this decision yet,” he said.

“The reality is that we still believe there is room for diplomacy,” added Panetta. “The new sanctions are beginning to have an impact; the international community is unified in its resistance to Iranian nuclear development. The Prime Minister of Israel has said the same thing - any military action should be the last and not the first solution.”

The comments come as speculation has increased over the past few days about an Israeli strike aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Some have speculated that such an attack by Israel could likely occur in September or October.

Panetta’s remarks are similar to ones made by White House Spokesman Jay Carney on Monday. “We continue to believe that there is time and space for diplomacy. The opportunity remains for Iran to take advantage of this process by taking the necessary steps to come into compliance with its international obligations,” said Carney.

During the press briefing, Panetta also discussed the recent events in Egypt and President Morsi’s decision to replace the country's military leadership.

“I spoke with Egypt’s new defense minister, General al-Sissi. He said he was committed to the principles of the peace agreement signed at Camp David and ensuring security in the Sinai Peninsula,” said Panetta, adding that al-Sissi “is a highly qualified officer who spent much time training in the U.S. General al-Sissi expressed his great commitment to the relations between Egypt and the United States.”

Earlier on Tuesday it was reported that Morsi will discuss, in coming days, making changes in the Camp David Accord signed with Israel.

Morsi’s advisor told a local newspaper in Egypt that the changes will allow Egypt "to implement its full sovereignty over the Sinai Peninsula."