from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

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

August 15, 2013

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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?