Major US-Israel differences surfaced suddenly Thursday, Dec. 1, over the timing and circumstances of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, when Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, said: "I don't know whether Israel would alert the United States ahead of time if it decided to take military action against Iran." Three hours later, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak maintained US policy would enable Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon without the possibility of attacking it.
In an interview, General Dempsey went on to admit a range of differences between the US and Israel on two key issues: The first related to their expectations from the sanctions and the diplomatic moves being taken by the Obama administration, “with the stated intent not to take any options off the table” – language that leaves open the possibility of future military action.
“I am not sure that the Israelis share our outlook” on this matter, said the American general.
The second issue on which the Americans and Israelis are divided is their perspective on the future course of events relating to the Iranian nuclear program and the Middle East: “And … because to them this (a nuclear-armed Iran) is an existential threat I think probably that it’s fair to say that our expectations are different right now,” said Gen. Dempsey.
In an early morning radio interview, Ehud Barak laid Israel's cards on the table with unusual frankness: He said he would be happy if diplomatic moves and sanctions were to stop Iran’s nuclear program and make it possible to give up the military option, but he does not believe that is the case.
“They (the Americans) tell us – What’s the hurry with an attack on Iran? Wait until (Ayatollah) Khamenei announces that Iran is abandoning the NPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty). The Iranians will break the locks (IAEA inspection seals at Iranian uranium enrichment plants) and then it will be clear to all that they have a nuclear weapon.”
Barak added: “The difference between us and the Americans is this: We say that because the Iranians are busy moving their nuclear program to underground facilities, they can announce this (that they have a nuclear weapon) after it is no longer possible to attack it." He went on to warn that If Israel is pushed into a corner, “it will have to act.”
In other words, Israel is not willing to wait, as the Obama administration proposes, until diplomatic moves and sanctions against Iran have achieved their aim, mostly because Israel is not ready to let Iran complete the transfer of its nuclear facilities to underground facilities and so make them safe from attack.
According to debkafile’s military and intelligence sources, Israel gives Iran no more than six to eight months to complete this transfer, i.e., by June to August, 2012.
Another point made by the Israeli defense minister was that some of Iran's nuclear facilities have already been hidden underground and are therefore impossible to monitor, even by military satellites. He was referring especially, our sources say, to the Fordo bunker site near Qom where, according to intelligence data, Iran is about to start enriching 20-percent grade uranium to 60 percent. This would bring the program to a few weeks away from weapons grade uranium for a bomb or a warhead.
On Tuesday, Nov. 29, former IDF military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin estimated that Iran had already accumulated sufficient enriched uranium to build 4 to 5 nuclear bombs.
In his interview Thursday, Defense Minister Barak also answered former Mossad chief Meir Dagan's persistent arguments against an Israeli military strike against Iran on the grounds that it would immediately trigger a regional war: Syria, Hizballah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad would launch attacks on Israel, seriously battering the country and inflicting heavy casualties, in Dagan's view.
Israel, Barak replied, is nowhere near being paralyzed by messages of doom. The degree of damage and number of civilian casualties would not, in his view, be alarmingly high. He repeated his estimate of early November that the casualty figure from a combined Arab missile assault resulting from an attack on Iran would be “a lot less than 500” – especially if people took cover.
The defense minister concluded this comment by saying: I have no idea what may happen tomorrow morning in Syria, or in Egypt.” debkafile’s military sources interpret this as meaning that the danger of a new Middle East regional war is already present – unrelated to a possible Israeli attack on Iran, but rather as a result of the volatility set up by the uprising in Syria and the predicted rise to power in Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi Islamists.