Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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Will America Help Israel Attack Iran?

by Micah Zenko
August 15, 2012

General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with Major-General Gantz, chief of Israeli armed forces, in Tel Aviv (Amir Cohen/Courtesy Reuters). General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with Major-General Gantz, chief of Israeli armed forces, in Tel Aviv (Amir Cohen/Courtesy Reuters).


Yesterday, during a press conference, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, observed the following when asked about Israeli military capabilities to undertake unilateral strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities:

DEMPSEY: Militarily, my assessment hasn’t changed. I want to make clear; I’m not privy to their planning. So what I’m telling you is based on what I know of their capabilities, and I may not know about all their capabilities, but I think that it’s a fair characterization to say that they could delay, but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Q: Is a two- to three-year timeframe of delay, is that still the swag that—

DEMPSEY: I haven’t changed my assessment. (This refers to his earlier assertion that an Israeli strike would “delay the production or the capability of Iran to achieve a nuclear weapon status—probably for a couple of years.”)

Dempsey’s emphasis on the lack of joint U.S.-Israel military planning over attacking Iran is nothing new. In a February interview with Fareed Zakaria, when asked if Israel would fly over Iraqi airspace to strike Iran, Dempsey responded: “Well, I mean, I’m not privy, obviously, to their plans. But that is the shortest distance between two points.” In May, during a public address in Washington, DC, he stated:

Israel and the United States have been closely collaborating on any number of fronts, especially in the area of intel sharing, so that we can come to a common understanding of the threat and of the likely timelines that we might have to confront.

I probably met with [Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Benny Gantz] more than any other of my counterparts–nearly every other month since I’ve been the chairman. That’ll continue because we have common interests in the defense of Israel as well as ensuring that –as you know, we’ve said we’re determined to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state. So I can assure you that we are collaborating with the Israeli military on intel sharing and on our posture. I will say it does not rise to the level of joint military planning, but we’re closely collaborating.

No one in the U.S. government believes that Israel would give the United States advance warning of a unilateral attack against Iran. When the White House, and later Secretary Panetta, demanded such notice, Israel pointedly declined. When asked about an Israeli heads-up, Dempsey simply said, “I don’t know.” Meanwhile, Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, both agree that the Obama administration does not know what Israel will decide to do. In late March, Panetta acknowledged: “If Israel decides to go after Iran and we have to defend ourselves, we could be engaged sooner than any of us want.”

The near-certainty that Tel Aviv will not warn Washington before attacking Iran—as they never have for other preemptive attacks—along with Dempsey’s repeated warnings raise three important points that are often lost in media reports and Israeli and American public opinion polls. Specifically, there are no joint plans for a strike against Iran’s nuclear program, the most senior U.S. military official is unaware of Israeli military plans, and the United States will not know in advance of a unilateral Israeli operation.

In the past week, U.S. officials have reaffirmed, “there is time and space to continue to pursue a diplomatic path,” and, “we have visibility into the program, and we would know if and when Iran made what’s called a ‘breakout move’ towards acquiring a weapon.” Despite pressure from Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Obama administration will not attack Iran’s nuclear program any time soon. After years of threats, there may be an Israeli military attack against Iran in the next few months, with the United States on the sidelines—at least initially. Iran’s response to an Israeli attack, however, will almost certainly draw in U.S. military forces nearby, whether they want to or not.

Post a Comment 17 Comments

  • Posted by Bryan

    I think it a shame that there is any room at all as to whether we will help Israel.

    With that said…….wait if we have info to make sure……..then if all we have done hasn’t worked………..SOLVE THE PROBLEM……Regime change in Iran.

  • Posted by Tom

    Well, I hate these religious driven but Israel is also driven by their reglious believe (some really fanatic). All I care as an American citizen is Israel need to respect USA. If Israel attacks Iran and Iran retaliates, US can’t just stand there and watch especially, if Israel is taking big hits from Iran. That means Israel’s action does impacts USA and USA will, at the end, save Israel. Therefore, Israel has to respect, listen and bow to USA.

  • Posted by aviefar

    Micah Zenko ignores Dempsey’s remarks on close military cooperation between the two countries. I understand from the words of Dempsey and Panetta that the United States knows very well the operational plan of Israel and vice versa, and there is a full adjustment and synchronization between the two attacking plans. Statements of Dempsey explicitly were wrong interpreted by the media, and perhaps that was the Americans and Israelis intention at the first place. I think that what is going to happen is actually that Obama is going to hit Iran’s nuke before electiosn in order to increase his popularity that is gradually eroded next to the increasing popularity of Romney and Ryan.

  • Posted by Richard C

    Mark my words: Israel will go it alone for the most part on a unilateral strike against Iran’s nuke facilities etc.. I also believe biblicaly this is predicted or prophesied. Then in response, Russia and China etc, will join together to invade or attack Israel in the not too distant future. So to say, you will never do that again. You, Israel caused too much problems and instability. We need step in and take you over or out. This will happen. No doubt

  • Posted by AKIN OLOPADE

    After the war in Iraq and Agfanistan the US is seriously looking for the next great war It is in the interest of Israel that Iran do not achieve Nuclear capabilities .However I personally belief they are already to late to prevent this I think the Iranians has achieved this feat as we write. I really don’t think Israel can undertake a pre-emptive strike again am sure the Iranian are expecting them An all out war might be in the offing .As always the Us will want to democratise an act of war and aggression by inviting other countries to tag along in the pursuits of its own Agenda .Time will tell

  • Posted by Godfrey

    Will America “Help” Israel Attack Iran? What a joke. This miniscule country already receives over $3 billion of aid annually — more than any other country since 1976.

    What Isreal really wants is an official stamp of approval from the United States, in order to create the impression of LEGITIMACY to their violent attacks. Unfortunately, that word does NOT come to mind when a significant portion of the international community thinks about Israel.

  • Posted by Mike S

    Sad that Israel is going to cry victim once they start getting hit with barrage of missiles and terrorist attacks from every angle for attacking Iran. Reminds me of the bully who talks big only because he has his buddies in the background to defend him. Israel war mongering is possible only through U.S Support.

  • Posted by Fred

    Israel has plenty of nukes to destroy Iran’s program and that is what they will be forced to do if Obama continues egging on the situation. Whatever they are gaining by giving Israel a hard time pales in comparison to the costs of nuclear war in the modern age. Blaming Israel for not politely allowing itself to be exterminated is a post facto answer, not a prevention.

  • Posted by Gabriel Rasheed Smith

    I’ve read quite a bit on the “Iran situation”, enough to come to conclusion about this. Although, I’m no expert in these matters based on what I’ve read about other countries obtaining a nuclear arsenal i.e. Pakistan and N. Korea. Both these countries were assumed to be irrational and would do something regrettable to bring upon nuclear war. That has not happened (yet). I believe Iran is in the same position, sure they might be slightly more aggressive in all aspects, but to engage Israel w/ U.S. forces in a war that will be the end of Iran as they know it is simply “stupid”. I think we should give Iran a bit more credit than that.

  • Posted by Renfro

    Israel is welfare client county of the US, supported only, from Truman to today, because of ‘domestic political considerations” of US Jewish voters and donors. I suggest anyone who doubts that spend some time reading the private papers of every US President at their respective US Presidential Libraries.
    Israel is not an asset, security wise or militarily or diplomatically to the US, it is in fact the exact opposite, a liability to US ME interest.
    Israel in 1973 blackmailed the US into supplying their ’73 war by threatening to use their nukes in the ME if the US did not provide the weapons and material Israel needed. According the British declassified documents released this year, Israel in 1980 once again threatened to use nukes if they got into another Arab war.
    No serious FP expert believes Iran would use nukes if they had them for a first strike on Israel. Israel does not want Iran to have nukes because then they lose their edge and their ability to use their own nukes as a threat against those who do not have any counter threat.
    After 65 years and 1.2 trillion in cost to the US in Israel support and aid, according to the Economist, it is past time to cut the Israel parasite loose from the US.
    “IF’ the US was acting ‘pragmatically” in it’ own interest it would be cultivating a relationship with Iran and with Shiite countries in the same way we have relations with Sunni Saudi, because Iran has regional influence and could help maintain the stability necessary to ensure the oil flow, our ONLY interest in the ME, Israel has no influence in the region. Further, if the US had relations with Iran the US could serve as a better “arbitrator” between Sunni and Shiite majority and minority countries to resolve differences and grievances that could lead to disruptive conflicts.
    THIS is what the US would do if it were acting in it’s own National Interest and not acting based on domestic political pandering to a special interest minority favoring Israel and donating heavily enough to the Dem party to account for 60% of their total campaign funds (according to the Washington Post). And Israel’s biggest supporter, the Casino King Adelson didn’t give both Newt and Romney 10 million and take them to visit Israel for no reason.
    Wake up America , you’re being had…again.

  • Posted by Gabriel R S

    In response to “Renfro” what refrences do you have, I would like to read upon the comments you made. Is there any books that you recommend to read?

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    Good cop, bad cop.

  • Posted by illawarrior

    Despite the strong alliance between USA & Israel, USA has an even stronger alliance to money ….. which can easily translate to oil. USA will pledge allegiance to any country which best suits its economic purposes at the time!

  • Posted by jim

    The orthodox and right-wing jews are racists and Israel is engaged in an ethnic cleansing campaign of Palestine. It doesn’t deserve and military or economic aid from the U.S. Israel uses the money to build jewish settlelments on Palistinian land.

  • Posted by mahsa

    I think we can have the right to have nuclear energy. We are not like Israel to cast our shadows over some countries and act like bully people. It is so foolish to attack a country when there is the possibility to settle down a problem through negotiations.

  • Posted by Stuart Edwards

    It is ridiculous for anyone with a nuclear arsenal to insist that Iran be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons… either everyone can have them or no-one can. The economic punishment of Iran amounts to an act of war and I commend the Iranian leadership for their tolerance and patience in despite of the war mongering rhetoric being directed at them. Also let us not forget that Iran has complied with inspection requirements and is a signatory to the Non proliferation treaty and have stated over and over again they do not have nukes and they do not want any. Having said that one could understand why they might want them since they are surrounded by US Military bases.. leave Iran alone and stop punishing them for no reason. Any strike on Iran will not only engulf the entire region in flames (ask Dr Brzezinski to explain the danger) but also likely to light the fuse on WW3

  • Posted by Ira

    Fluffy Obama would start a war with Iran to boost their ratings 🙂

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