Joint Chiefs Chair Dempsey Says the U.S. and Israel View Iran Threat Differently: For Israel It‘s ’Existential’

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Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey Says the U.S. and Israel Don’t View Iran Threat Eye to Eye   For Israel its

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Generals Martin Dempsey and Benny Gantz in January 2012 (photo credit: Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Public Affairs)

Speaking to reporters in route to Afghanistan late Sunday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said that even though Israeli and American military leaders see the same intelligence reports, the two countries view the Iranian nuclear threat differently.

According to AFP, Dempsey said:

“We compare intelligence, we discuss regional implications. And we’ve admitted to each other that our clocks are turning at different rates,” he said.

“They are living with an existential concern that we are not living with.”

Amid intense speculation in the Israeli press that Israel soon may launch a unilateral strike against Iran’s nuclear sites, Dempsey said the US military felt no pressure from Israel to back possible bombing raids.

Though Dempsey says the U.S. doesn’t feel pressure to back an Israeli bombing campaign, he clearly feels enough pressure to speak every two weeks with his Israeli counterpart, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, about the Iranian nuclear threat.

AFP reports that Dempsey reiterated Sunday night his previously-stated position that an Israeli military strike will only delay Iran’s nuclear program, not totally destroy it. This also appears to be the opinion of Israeli officials, as reflected in Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren’s suggestion last week that Israel would be willing to attack Iran even if it knew that would only delay the program. Oren told Bloomberg:

“One, two, three, four years are a long time in the Middle East — look what’s happened in the last year. In our neighborhood, those are the rules of the game.”

Oren added that even if a strike would only postpone Iran’s nuclear march by two or three years, that wouldn’t be an “argument against” the military option: “in the past, we have operated on the assumption that we can only gain a delay.”

The best example of that operating assumption was Israel’s strike at the Iraqi Osirak reactor in 1981 when Israeli officials believed “we would gain a delay of between one and two years on that program.” Oren said. “To this day, Iraq does not have a nuclear weapon.”

The Times of Israel offers more behind the scenes thinking among Israel’s leaders:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly believes Iran is only a few months away from crossing the threshold beyond which a military strike on their program will be useless, while the US believes it has more time.

Both Barak and Netanyahu reportedly prefer for the US to lead in any such strike, but say they will go it alone if they have to.

During the induction ceremony for Israel’s new Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter on Sunday, Dichter called Iran an existential threat to Israel, as opposed to the somewhat less severe threats closer to home:

“Lebanon, Gaza and Syria pose a strategic threat, and Iran, for the first time, poses an existential threat.”

Striking a defiant chord, he noted that Israel has:

“proved to itself, to its enemies and the world that the era in which Israelis are murdered just because they are Jewish – is over!”

Despite the Obama administration’s reluctance to commit to any military action in support of Israel, Ambassador Oren told Israel Hayom over the weekend that he believes the American people, the administration and Congress will stand with Israel in the event of a military strike:

“If Israel ultimately decides to take action against Iran, we will receive extremely widespread support from the American people and Congress, and President [Barack] Obama will continue to recognize our right to defend ourselves on our own. It won’t create a rift with the United States.”

Oren quoted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as saying the U.S. would stand by Israel if is attacked with missiles, but offered no additional details as to what standing by Israel would include.

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