JERUSALEM — The United States’ top military official held talks Friday with Israeli leaders in an effort to coordinate responses to Iran’s nuclear program and urged closer cooperation between the two allies.
Remarks by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey before the talks appeared to reflect concern in Washington about possible Israeli plans to move independently to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“We have many interests in common in the region in this very dynamic time, and the more we can continue to engage each other, the better off we’ll all be,” Dempsey said at the start of a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at his Tel Aviv office.
Barak replied, “There is never a dull moment, that I can promise you.”
Dempsey also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and the Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.
“Both our countries share the same interests, both the same values, and I’m sure we can somehow work it out together,” Gantz said as the two generals sat down for their meeting.
Dempsey said his presence in Israel “reflects the commitment we have with each other, and I’m here to assure you that is the case.”
No Israeli statement was issued after the day’s talks, reflecting the sensitivity of the subject, and spokesmen for Netanyahu and Barak declined to comment on the substance of the discussions, citing what they described as standard procedure for consultations with visiting U.S. military chiefs.
A spokesman for Dempsey said in a statement that the talks had “served to advance a common understanding of the regional security environment.”
News reports in Israel described Dempsey’s visit as part of an effort by Washington to clarify Israel’s intentions regarding a possible military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities and to press the Israelis to allow time for international sanctions on Iran to take effect before considering any attack.
Barak said in a radio interview this week that any Israeli decision on military action was “very far off,” and he rejected suggestions that Dempsey was carrying a warning to Israel against going it alone. Policy matters, he said, were discussed in his regular contacts with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Dempsey’s visit came at a time of heightened tension after the assassination last week of the deputy director of an Iranian nuclear enrichment site and threats by Iran to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for about a fifth of the world’s oil trade, in response to U.S.-led moves to tighten international sanctions.
Iran has blamed Israel and the United States for the killing of its scientist, the fifth such slaying since 2007. Washington has denied involvement, while Israel has not commented.
Israel and the United States this week decided to postpone a large joint missile defense exercise scheduled for the spring, a move that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman attributed to regional “tensions and instability.”
Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have argued that crippling sanctions on Iran, coupled with a credible military option, are needed to prevent Tehran from pursuing what they describe as a drive to build a nuclear bomb. Israeli officials say they view a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat and have hinted at possible military action should sanctions prove ineffective.
“Nuclear arms in Iran are a threat to Israel, the region and the world,” Netanyahu said in a speech Wednesday during a visit to the Netherlands. “Sanctions should be applied to Iran’s central bank and its oil exports — and they should be applied now.”
A new law signed by President Obama would penalize any foreign entity that does business with the Iranian central bank, and the European Union is considering additional sanctions, including a ban on importing Iranian oil and freezing the central bank’s assets.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy production.