Joint Chiefs chairman headed to Israel amid Iran threat
Israel's military confirmed Sunday that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey will travel to the Mideast nation this week for talks, as Israel's No. 2 public official suggested that President Obama is being meek about Iran ahead of the U.S. presidential election.
The content of the coming discussion between the U.S. general and Israel's top military commander was not stated, but Iran is first and foremost in Israel's mind as the Islamic Republic takes a step closer to going nuclear.
"There is very close cooperation between Israel, the Israeli military and the U.S. military, and General Dempsey is a close friend, and I'm sure that he and our chief of staff will have very serious discussions about all the options," said former Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Dan Gillerman.
With Dempsey scheduled to visit Israel this week -- his first official trip to the country since he assumed command of the joint chiefs on Sept. 30 -- the occasion may be used to urge Israel to stay calm and let sanctions work.
Israel has grown antsy about Iran's nuclear program and has repeatedly hinted it might take military action if international sanctions fail to stop Iran's nuclear development, which is moving at a fast clip. Reports are that Iran will have 20 percent concentration of enriched uranium by next month. That level of enrichment is not used for energy production but toward weapons development.
The U.S. has imposed a series of economic sanctions against the regime, and U.S. officials -- as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- have suggested that the tough sanctions are starting to break down support for the regime.
But Israeli Cabinet Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Sunday he was disappointed that the U.S. has not expanded sanctions to further damage Iran's central bank and its energy industry. He also suggested that the Obama administration hasn't been as forceful as Britain and France in imposing sanctions.
"In the United States, the Senate passed a resolution, by a majority of 100-to-1, to impose these sanctions, and in the U.S. administration there is hesitation for fear of oil prices rising this year, out of election-year considerations," Ya'alon told Israel Radio, according to Haaretz newspaper. "In that regard, this is certainly a disappointment, for now."
The Obama administration is concerned that Iran's verbosity about its expanding nuclear operation will drive Israel to strike. President Obama spoke Thursday with Netanyahu, and Iran was part of the conversation, said White House spokesman Jay Carney, without detailing the content of the call.
Dempsey spokesman Col. Dave Lapan told Fox News that the trip was not orchestrated in light of recent events. He said Dempsey's office has been planning a series of talks with his counterparts, and the trip includes a stop in Paris and Brussels as well as Tel Aviv.
"This whole trip has been in the works for months," Lapan said. "Much as some want to read the Israel stop as connected to Iran, that's not the case."
At the same time, Israeli media reported that war games exercises between the two nations were delayed -- according to one unnamed Israeli defense official, because Washington wanted to avoid causing further tension in the region. However, Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby, who confirmed the delay to Fox News, said he would "not characterize the reason as fears over Iran. That's not accurate."
Kirby did not provide a reason for the delay.
With Dempsey headed to meet Israeli military chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Gantz is also headed abroad this week -- to Brussels for talks with NATO officials that are expected to focus on Iran. Gantz was quoted last week telling a parliamentary panel that 2012 would be a "critical year" for Iran -- in part because of "things that happen to it unnaturally."
Gantz's comment came one day after the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist, an occasion that Iran's leaders have used to stir up anti-Israel and anti-American sentiment. The U.S. has denied any role in the assassination, though leaders have left the impression they know how it happened. Israel has not commented on the killing.
Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, and has invited the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit, though several observers say it is likely merely a delay tactic.
Gillerman said Dempsey's visit may allow the Israeli military to impress upon Dempsey the need for some distinct solution to Iran.
"What we hope very much is the U.S. will realize that time is running out, the clock is ticking and action must be taken," Gillerman told Fox News. "And if military action is necessary, we hope very much the U.S. and the rest of the world will take it because, as I said, it's a threat to civilization as we know it, not just to Israel."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.