Time running out for Israel?

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," February 23, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

LIZ CHENEY, GUEST HOST: Welcome back to "Hannity." The crisis in the Mideast fueled by Iran's nuclear ambitions continues to escalate tonight. But despite this unacceptable behavior from the regime in Tehran, the Obama administration continues to tiptoe around the issue. Earlier this week, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, said that it's much too soon to be discussing military action. Listen to this.


FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST OF, "FAREED ZAKARI GPS": Do you think that is still unclear, that they're moving on a path toward nuclear technology, but whether or not they choose to make a nuclear weapon is unclear?

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: It is. I believe it is unclear. And on that basis, I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military action was upon us. We are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor, and it's for that reason, I think, that we think the current path we're on is the most prudent path at this point.


CHENEY: Joining me now with reaction is retired four-star general and Fox News contributor General Jack Keane. Jack, thank you very much for being with us this evening.

GEN. JACK KEANE, U.S. ARMY (RET.), FOX CONTRIBUTOR: It's great to see you, Liz, and particularly in that chair asking the questions.

CHENEY: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. Go easy on me, OK? In response to what we just heard General Dempsey say, do you think there's really any question at all that Iran is actually pursuing a nuclear weapon?

KEANE: No, I don't think there's much doubt about it. You know, this is an incredible occurrence that's taking place. We're having a public debate with our closest ally over the timeline surrounding the Iranians having a nuclear weapon.

So what is really happening here is our Intel analysts and the Israeli Intel analysts look at the same data. And the estimate is somewhere around one to two years or thereabouts in terms of weaponization of nuclear capability. Our policy makers, U.S. policy makers, have a tendency to be on the outside of that policy; therefore, we have more time for sanctions and diplomacy.

The Israeli policy makers looking at the same data have a tendency to be on the inside of that information and say, we’re running out of time.

Now, you can understand the Israeli skepticism for two reasons. One, when we invaded Iraq in 2003, shortly thereafter, the Iranians stopped their nuclear weapons program because they were afraid they were next. But it took us three years to understand that they had done that. They restarted, and it took us two years to understand that they, in fact, restarted the program.

Secondly, we had negotiated with the North Koreans to stop their development of a nuclear weapon. It was U.S. policy it was unacceptable, and we negotiated ourselves into the North Koreans having that weapon.

So the Israelis look at all of that, put that together, and they're erring on the side of time is running out and we may have to do something. They don't want to do something, but they may have to.

CHENEY: And given that that's the situation, doesn't it make much more sense for the United States to be conveying the message to the world that we will stand with Israel, that we will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, to be doing whatever we have to do to convince the Iranians that, in fact, military action is in their future if they don't comply?

KEANE: Yes. Absolutely. I mean we've made a public policy statement that having a nuclear weapon is unacceptable and that the military option is on the table. We should certainly follow that up with very strong diplomatic messages, not public messages, in terms of what that truly means for the Iranians if they continue to consider pursuit of this.

And the Israelis also know that there is still some time, and they want the United States to be much tougher in terms of economic sanctions, not this slow, incremental protocol we're executing now, but something that's much more determined, more simultaneous, and considerably more aggressive to convince the Iranians that they should voluntarily give up the program.

And also, I'm assuming we're conducting some simultaneous covert action with the Israelis.

CHENEY: Well, and one of the arguments that you hear pretty consistently is that any type of military strike either would be so risky or would only serve, at best, to delay the Iranian program. It seems to me that that's not a bad outcome, wouldn't you say?

KEANE: Well, to say that a military operation would not be successful because it could not -- would not destroy the capacity indefinitely -- I think that's misguided. Certainly, to conduct a military operation to delay it, as you suggest, is an acceptable outcome.

There is risk with the operation because of the nature of the operation, the distance to the target, multiple targets and the nature of the target itself. And there's certainly risk to the Israelis in terms of the Iranians' retaliation capacities.

But when you look at it from the Israeli perspective, they look at that and they say, well, that's an acceptable risk, given the fact the Iranians would have a nuclear weapon and they have public rhetoric for years saying that they would use that weapon to destroy Israel.

CHENEY: You know we've seen across the region a lot of developments of concern, Jack. And I want to ask you in particular about Afghanistan. I know you've just come back. Could you give us a sense of what you heard from the people on the ground about what they think the U.S. posture is in the region?

KEANE: Well, I've done four assessments in Afghanistan since the president made the decision to go to counterinsurgency strategy and put the surge forces in. And let me just say at the outset that we have a great leadership team there, and Ryan Crocker, who's our ambassador, absolutely the best in the business.

And General John Allen, who took over from Dave Petraeus -- superb general officer. And the troops, our civilian servants and our contractors all are putting their shoulder into this mission.

The major takeaways for me, the first one is there's a general sense that U.S. policy makers will not see the mission through. There's a lack of confidence in that. And that is certainly disturbing. It's driven by the fact that we're pulling the surge forces out over the objection of General Petraeus.

And it's also driven by the fact that we didn't leave any forces in Iraq, which were over the objections of General Allston (ph). That has not been lost on leaders in Afghanistan, whether they be Afghan leaders or international community leaders or American leaders.

All that said we have made a major turnaround in security in Afghanistan. The improvement has been dramatic in the south and we're beginning to do the same thing in the east.

CHENEY: Well, I hope we will certainly give our commanders on the ground and our troops there the support they need so we can, in fact, continue to do that in the east. And thank you again for your service to the country, Jack, and thank you for being with us tonight.

KEANE: It's good seeing you, Liz.

CHENEY: Thank you.

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