The dispute between the American and Israeli leaderships over a possible attack on Iran has come out into the open in recent days with what was the sternest warning by a senior American figure against an Israeli strike.
During a visit to the Paralympic Games in London last week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, said that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear installations would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear programme”.
He added that the international efforts against Iran “could be undone if it was attacked prematurely”. Therefore, Mr Dempsey said, “I don’t want to be complicit if they choose to do it.”
Also last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published its quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear programme. The IAEA confirmed that country is continuing to enrich uranium, has already accumulated over 190kg of uranium enriched to 20 per cent and has doubled the number of centrifuges at its underground enrichment plant in Fordow to over 2,000.
The IAEA report detailed additional work the Iranians have been doing on nuclear weapons-related projects and attempts to conceal weapons experiments at the Parchin military base.
The report contained no new information for Israel and the United States — much of the IAEA report is based on intelligence gathered by Western nations — but, so far, it has not changed the two governments’ positions.
Israel’s leadership is convinced that only a military strike can now stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, while the Obama administration believes there is still is time for sanctions to work.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday saying that the IAEA report is “proof of what I have saying for a long while — the international sanctions are weighing down on Iran’s economy, but they are not delaying in any way the progress of the Iranian nuclear programme.”
Mr Netanyahu, in veiled a criticism of the Americans’ efforts, said: “The Iranians are using their talks with the world powers to gain time and to push their nuclear programme forward. I believe that we must speak the truth — the international community is not setting Iran a clear red line and Iran is not seeing international resolve to stop its nuclear programme.”
On Friday, Time magazine revealed that a large joint US-Israel missile defence exercise, scheduled to take place next month, had been significantly scaled down with about a quarter of the number of American troops originally slated for the operation now participating.
The decision has been seen in some quarters as an indication of the administration’s displeasure with Israel’s positions but military officials on both sides have said that the reduction in forces was due to budgetary concerns.
In a rare attempt to defuse tension, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro gave an interview to Israel’s Channel Two news, denying that there had been an angry exchange between him and Mr Netanyahu last week.
Meanwhile, the Iranian issue is being leveraged in the American presidential election campaign. Candidate Mitt Romney said in his acceptance speech at the Republican conference last week: “America is less secure today because he [Obama] has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat… President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus.”
Vice President Joe Biden responded accusing Mr Romney of being “ready to go to war in Syria and Iran”.