This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 20, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Two big hot spots for the White House to be looking at every day now, Iran and Syria. The chairman of the joints chief, General Martin Dempsey visited Israel last month, said in an interview, quote, "We think that it's not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran. I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us."
This comes as the president's top national security advisor, Tom Donilon, wrapped up three days of meetings with Israeli officials and this is ahead of a March 5th meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
We're back with the panel. Steve, it seems like the administration is sending this, both publicly and privately, to Israel.
STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I cannot imagine a dumber course of action than what the administration is doing right now. If, in fact, you really want to avoid war with Iran, you need to be doing precisely the opposite of what the administration is doing.
You don't put your top military official out to say, hey, basically, we don't want anything to do with a war. We think it's a bad idea.
You're positioning yourself in such a way that you make the possibility of war more likely in the minds of the Iranians, especially if you believe, as Martin Dempsey claims, that Iran is a rational actor, which is what he said in this interview yesterday.
There's three decades of evidence to suggest that Iran might not be a rational actor, but, if you believe that Iran is rational you need to be doing everything you can with coercive diplomacy, with repositioning your forces in the region to make them believe that this could lead to war if they don't do what you want them to do.
Instead, we're telegraphing that we don't want anything to do with war.
BAIER: Although, A.B., the British foreign secretary told the BBC the same thing on Sunday.
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: I think that Panetta -- the secretary of Defense's comments several weeks ago saying that some attack from the Israelis to Iran was imminent and would be coming between April, May and June was a signal to the Iranians that we wanted, you know, more time, that we were trying to tell the Israelis that it wasn't too -- the time was not now.
You know, obviously, the administration has been urging the Israelis to take more time and allow the sanctions to work, but the Iranians also know that the president is going to be with the -- the administration, the U.S. government would be with the Israelis in any kind of counter attack. That's just obvious. I mean, that's something that they assume.
What's happening now is this dance around sanctions and, though there is all this domestic strife that has resulted from the sanctions, what the Israelis perceive is that sanctions just ultimately buys the Iranians more time.
These inspections that won't go well buys them more time. It's exactly what the Iranians want and this kind of diplomacy is allowing them more time and the Israelis, I think, have doubled down on their plan, regardless.
BAIER: Meanwhile, Byron, Tehran announced it's cutting off oil supplies to France and to the United Kingdom, forcing oil prices to a nine-month high. The EU had said that they were threatening to cut off anyway.
BYRON YORK, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Right. So, France and Britain are the -- probably have the lowest rate of use of Iranian oil of any place in Europe. Some of the countries -- it would be more damaging.
But we don't really know. We, the United States government, does not really know exactly Israel's capability in this. It would be an extraordinarily complicated operation, flying a very long way. Does Israel have the capability to refuel enough of its planes, enough time to spend over Iran to do this job?
We don't know exactly what they are planning to do. Even though we're allies, we don't know exactly what were're planning to do nor do we know that if there is a problem, if this raid happens and there is a problem, whether the United States would be pulled in to help clean this thing up.
It make sense to me to be putting the brakes on Israel right now.
BAIER: Interesting. Steve, quickly on Syria, some senators including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina say this is the time to replace the Assad regime, actively, because that would be a crippling blow, they say, to Iran.
HAYES: Yeah, I mean, if you look at the two cases where the administration has contemplated military intervention, Libya and Syria, they made their argument on Libya on a moral case. They said we need to do this. We need to do this before the humanitarian disaster gets out of hand.
At the time they made that argument, there were like 1,000 in the death toll. The death toll's much higher here, so I think the moral argument isn't as persuasive and they're not making it now.
I mean, they've abandoned the moral argument altogether, largely because, I think, our European allies got a good chunk of their oil from Libya. They don't get their oil from Syria.
But, in terms of our strategic interest, there's no question that Syria's much more important, especially with its relations with Iran, than Libya ever was.
BAIER: And, as little of an appetite there is for Iran action, there seems as little an appetite for Syria action from this administration.
YORK: Well, absolutely. The moral argument is there, but Syria also has military and they are much more together.
I mean, when the United States took action in Libya, they imposed a no-fly zone on a country that had no airplanes. It worked. It would be a significantly more involved and complicated operation in Syria.
BAIER: That is it for the panel, but stay tuned to see Iran's big reveal that you might have missed.
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