Chief of Staff Ashkenazi and VP Dick Cheney
Chief of Staff Ashkenazi and VP Dick Cheneyphoto: IDF/Ron Sachs

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, on his first official visit to Washington, warned that Israel would not rule out any course to halt the Iranian nuclear program. However, he emphasized, both Israel and America would prefer a diplomatic resolution to the confrontation with Iran.

During a press conference for Israeli media in Washington on Wednesday, Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi said: "We are all united in the view that Iran needs to be prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon. There is no doubt that diplomatic activity and sanctions are the best way to accomplish that. I think that is the preferred method, through international activity. That is also the Israeli policy, insofar as I understand it, and it is also the American preference. In addition, I think we all understand - the Americans and certainly us - that we need to prepare all the other options." 

As for himself, the IDF commander-in-chief said: "My duty is to ready the army for war, to fight and to win."

Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi is on a week-long visit to the United States for a series of talks with senior American politicians and Pentagon officials. He left Israel late Saturday night. The bilateral discussions focused on the Iranian threat, the Hamas mini-state in Gaza, the threats from the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria, the increasing Hizbullah influence in Lebanon, and other regional threats.

On Wednesday, Chief of Staff Ashkenazi met with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy

Secretary of State John Negroponte, top military and U.S. State Department officials, leaders of AIPAC and members of Congress. His Thursday meetings, preceded by a full military ceremony at the Pentagon, included talks with Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi was also scheduled to meet with leaders of the Jewish community in Florida.

In other comments at the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Wednesday, Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi shared his view of the challenges the Middle East is currently facing. He warned that "radical countries and elements are trying to establish a new order," and that the hub of the radicalization is Iran. The Islamic Republic, he said, is working to achieve regional hegemony by seeding the Middle East with terrorist entities aimed at overthrowing existing regimes. Successfully confronting Iran, therefore, "may in turn weaken the process of radicalization," the Chief of Staff said.

Commenting on his visit to the U.S., Ashkenazi said he hoped to come to "understand the American outlook on the issues and problems in the Middle East. This is an excellent opportunity to make it clear to them how we see things." He observed that the Americans "are fighting wars which are similar to our war on terror. It is often surprising to see how similar these things are. Even the types of explosive devices are very similar to those we deal with in Gaza and confronting Hizbullah."

The Chief of Staff is accompanied by his wife Ronit, by the IDF Military Attache in the U.S., Maj.-Gen. Benny

Ashkenazi said he hoped to come to "understand the American outlook on the issues."

Gantz; as well as the head of the Strategic Department in the IDF Planning Branch, Brig.-Gen. Yosi Hayman; the IDF Spokesperson, Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu; and the Director of the Office of the Chief of Staff. Furthermore, the IDF Spokesperson's Office noted, Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi invited the commander of the 74th Armored Battalion, Nir Ben-David, to accompany him in recognition of the importance of the IDF's various combat divisions.

The American View From Adm. Mullen

Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the the Fox News network on Sunday, "I worry about the instability in that part of the world and... the possible unintended consequences" of a military strike on Iran. "Right now I'm fighting two wars, and I don't need a third one," he quipped.

Adm. Mullen said of the international effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, "The pressure has got to continue to be brought specifically on Iran to not proceed in this regard."