General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday that a military Israeli attack against Iran will not destroy its nuclear facilities, but could hinder Tehran's ambitions.
Assessing Israeli military capability, Mr Dempsey told reporters during a press briefing in the Pentagon with Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta, "I think that it's a fair characterisation to say that they (the Israelis) could delay but not destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities." Mr Dempsey affirmed that this is his own assessment.
"Militarily, my assessment hasn't changed. And I want to make clear, I'm not privy to [Israeli] planning," he said. "So what I'm telling you is based on what I know of their capabilities. And I may not know about all of their capabilities."
Journalists suggested to Panetta that Israel was closer than ever to undertaking a unilateral strike against Iran; did he believe that such military action would be effective? The Secretary of Defence replied that Washington has not been informed by Israel that it is close to undertaking a military strike on Iran.
"I've said this before, I'll say it now: I don't believe that Israel has made a decision as to whether or not they will, they will go in and attack Iran at this time," he said. "Obviously, they are an independent, sovereign country. They'll ultimately make decisions based on what they think is in their national security interest. But I do not believe that they have made that decision at this time."
Mr Panetta pointed out that he, like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, believes "that any kind of military action ought to be the last alternative, not the first". Indeed, newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth quoted an Israeli official as saying, "No one really wants a war. No one wants to strike. All this talk about a military strike has gotten [sic] too loud."
Speaking about the possible impact of the new sanctions on Iran, Mr Panetta indicated that the international community insists that Iran must not have nuclear plants, noting that there is still enough time for more negotiations. "The additional sanctions are beginning to have an additional impact on top of the other sanctions that have been placed there," he said. "There is room to continue to negotiate," he added.
"The international community is strongly unified in opposition to Iran developing any kind of nuclear weapon. We are working together, both on the diplomatic side as well as on the economic side… The window is still open to try to work towards a diplomatic solution."