The United States and Israel are at odds over the need for imminent military action against Iran because of widespread concern about its controversial nuclear program. In mid-August 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said talks between the world’s six major powers and Iran had failed to produce a diplomatic solution. He also began suggesting that Israel would be justified in taking unilateral action. But top U.S. officials have pushed back against the increasingly tough Israeli language.
Since new U.S. sanctions were imposed during the summer, the Obama administration has argued that economic penalties are having a growing impact on Iran and that diplomacy is still alive. Senior officials – including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon – have traveled to Israel to urge the Netanyahu government not to act now. Officials have pledged a commitment to Israel’s security, but recent public statements reflect serious differences with Israel over Tehran’s capabilities and prospects for successful negotiations.
The following are key statements by senior U.S. officials that push back on the Israeli government’s stance on Iran.
Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, August 14
“I don’t believe they’ve [the Israelis] made a decision as to whether or not they will go in and attack Iran at this time…With regards to the issue of where we’re at from a diplomatic point of view, the reality is that we still think there is room to continue to negotiate.”
Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, August 14
“I may not know about all of their [Israeli] capabilities but I think that it’s a fair characterization to say that they could delay but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities.”
Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, August 19
“You can take two countries [Israel and the United States], give them the same intelligence and reach two different conclusions. I think that's what’s happening here."
“At the same time, we admit that our clocks ticking at different paces. We have to understand the Israelis; they live with a constant suspicion with which we do not have to deal.”
Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, August 20
“We continue to believe that there is time and space to pursue a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iran’s failure to live up to its nuclear obligations. And we, as part of that relationship, that security relationship that we have with Israel, communicate all the time about Iran and other issues in the region that are of concern to Israel.”