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.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


What’s New in U.S.-Israel Plans for Iran’s Nuclear Program?

by Micah Zenko
August 15, 2013


Two days ago, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, met with his Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, chief of the Israeli general staff. Last August, Gen. Dempsey told reporters that an Israeli attack could “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program.” He added: “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.” This morning, the New York Times reported something that indicates that last year’s assessment from America’s most senior military official has changed. According to Thom Shanker:

General Dempsey said, he “sensed agreement” that diplomatic initiatives and economic sanctions “were having an effect” on Iran, which is accused of seeking to develop nuclear arms, an accusation it strongly denies.

The Israelis “of course want us to continue to present a credible military threat to support those diplomatic and economic efforts,” General Dempsey said, adding that he told them, “since I was here last year, we have better military options than we did a year ago.”

That’s because we’ve continued to refine them,” he said. “We’ve continued to develop technology, we’ve continued to train and plan.”

This was a notable statement for three reasons, each of which raises new questions. First, he has stated repeatedly that he is not privy to Israel’s military planning for targeting Iran’s nuclear program, which leads one to ask what new information he received from his Israeli counterparts during his latest visit to contend that military options are better?

Second, Dempsey has asserted 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.” Would a strike now increase the timeline required to produce a bomb by more than “a couple years?” And would that include delaying a potential plutonium-bomb made with reprocessed spent fuel from the Arak heavy water reactor, which Israeli officials and analysts have recently warned is Iran’s “plan B” for a nuclear weapon?

Finally, Dempsey previously claimed that U.S.-Israeli discussions about attacking Iran “does not rise to the level of joint military planning, but we’re closely collaborating.” Does the recent addition of “we” imply that there are now coordinated U.S.-Israeli operational plans for offensive strikes—either kinetic or cyber—against Iran’s nuclear program? This would be a new development, given that U.S. officials have never directly answered the essential question: Will America help Israel attack Iran?

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by Aaron Brett

    Military hostilities with Iran should start on September the 19th.

  • Posted by CharlieSeattle

    It is time to stop pretending Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan are allies and Israel is not.

    Kick Turkey out of NATO and replace them with Israel.

    Support the creation of a free Kurdistan.

  • Posted by david r pacey

    Late to this discussion, sorry.

    Here is a basic systemic question for the US politicos,,,,,, Why on earth are you, might you, bother to even consider getting into another war? This time with Isreal or whatever country????

    You, the USA have just got out of the debacle called Iraq caused by a lying President, you have had your ass kicked in Afganistan, and now you are looking to fight in the area again????

    You have more than half the world’s Muslum pissed off at the USA, and you want another kick at the can to piss more people off?


    Please check which is your problem from above.

  • Posted by Javid Afzaal

    Please DO start another war in the ME and also in the Pacific and watch the destruction of your friends the Arab kings,the sheikhs,the Khalifas and the Thanis . You are invited .

  • Posted by Phillip

    Israel has between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons which it can be deliver from its aircraft, submarines and medium and long range missile systems. The hypocrisy in not mentioning this in every single article on the Iran Israel nuclear issue is so glaringly neon as to defy all reason and rationality.

    There simply IS no sell-able airstrike option which doesn’t include the possibility of igniting regional war and the real necessity for full invasion which is a nutty prospect at best. Time people realized this. This whole thing is bananas. The CFR should be deriding any memes which propagate even the possibility of air strikes on Iranian nuclear sites and explain to your readers how crazy the idea is at this point.

    Complete rubbish. I’d like to know which bomb they intend to use if it’s a kinetic attack plan which has been updated??? because the MOP is simply not appropriate. Too expensive, too few of them, too heavy, not capable of penetrating deep enough for some of the major targets. The fact is; there is no non-nuclear weapon capable of penetrating deep enough. Which leaves only the ‘heavy disruption’ plan i.e. destroy parts of complexes with large multiple sorties, entrances etc and cyber attack their systems etc but at this point virtually all American think tanks have dismissed the ‘large air strike’ option as too risky, with low payoff possibility and requiring of massive resources.

    Iran has surely taken all necessary steps to keep their systems off the grid to avoid cyber attack and have over-designed their complexes to be too deep and inaccessible to bombs, with multiple entrances hidden and obscured and invulnerable.

    A small air strike wouldn’t suffice and a massive attack would risk too much and could have the opposite than intended effect.

    Come up with a plan for them to produce power and give them their medical isotopes and drop the sanctions and most of all show Iran respect in the way you approach the negotiations.

    There is NO velvet revolution going to happen any time soon in Iran, maybe never at all. Their system will change slowly if at all. The US has NO HUMINT inside Iran since 2005 and no viable realistic sell-able air strike option and absolutely no intention/will to invade Iran under any circumstances and clearly doesn’t even think Iran is after Nukes now anyway so this whole thing has devolved into an embarrassing comedy which only serves to ruin the Iranian economy slowly while creating more and more hatred for the US.

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required