Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Israel seeks clarification of U.S. stance on Iran's 'capability'

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TEL AVIV -- A visit to Israel this week by the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, should help clarify two issues: the nature of Israeli-U.S. resolve to stop Iran's nuclear program; and, what exactly the U.S. perceives that program to be.

Questions about resolve were raised by an American-Israeli statement that an upcoming joint military exercise had been postponed to the second half of 2012.

Immediate speculation focused on the recent intensification of the "covert war" being waged by the West against Iran and Iran's sabre-rattling responses -- threatening to stop oil shipments from the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz and its announcement that it had started enriching uranium at a fortified facility.

The postponement might be a move in this cold war environment.

The reason, however, was less intriguing -- it was simply a budgetary matter.

Last week, the Netanyahu government adopted an ambitious education plan that grants free education to Israeli children beginning at the age of three.

To finance this plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut budgets across the board and notified Washington, which agreed to the "austerity challenge 12" and postponed the exercise.

Thus, Gen. Dempsey's visit is meant to reinforce the message that the U.S. and Israel share the same concern about Iran, military exercises notwithstanding.

It is that the closer Iran gets to its nuclear goals, and the more it demonstrates its willingness to confront the international community, the more the U.S. stands with Israel to confront it.

Dempsey's arrival also comes at a time when the U.S. and its allies need to craft a new strategic response to Iran's brinkmanship.

The opening of Iran's new uranium-enrichment facility in Qom confronts the U.S. and its allies with a critical decision: How far they are they to go in their efforts to limit Iran's nuclear ambitions?

Before coming to Israel, Dempsey was quoted as saying that he "does not know" if Israel would give the U.S. advance notice should it decide to militarily attack Iran alone.

That is baloney. Gen. Dempsey knows quite well not a single Israeli leader would contemplate such a move.

There is, however, one point that has must be clarified between Israel and the U.S.

In an interview with Face the Nation, U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta made the following observation;

"Are they (the Iranians) trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they are trying to develop nuclear capability. That's what concerns us.

"Our Red Line to Iran is -- don't develop a nuclear weapon. This is Red Line for us."

By implication, Panetta's remark could mean the Americans make a distinction between "capability" and "production."

Israeli officials are certainly going to verify this point with Gen. Dempsey this week.

Sam Segev is the Winnipeg Free

Press Middle East correspondent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2012 A11

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About Samuel Segev

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in the Middle East. He is based in Tel Aviv.

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