TEL AVIV, Israel —
Discussing threats from Iran or the vicious actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has a different resonance when the conversation is in Israel rather than the United States, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said here today.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed these threats and the state of the military-to-military relationship between the United States and Israel during meetings at the Kyria, the headquarters for Israel’s defense establishment.
The proximity of the threat changes the conversation, Dempsey said. “My first visit to Israel happened to be in Tel Aviv in late 2011,” the chairman told reporters traveling with him. “Then-chief of defense [Lt. Gen.] Benny Gantz took me to a hotel in central Tel Aviv, and we had dinner on the roof -- on a helipad. He took me there purposely. He said ‘Look around you. From this roof, you can see 65 percent of the population of Israel.’
“His message to me,” the chairman continued, “was that was why he needed our help to build and thicken an integrated air/missile defense system, because of the threat of rockets and missiles not only from Gaza, but even more prominently from Lebanon and potentially … from Iran.”
U.S. and Israeli military officials went to work, the chairman said. Since then, both nations have made huge investments in the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and the Arrow air defense systems.
“We’ve really developed a fully integrated air defense system like nowhere else in the world,” the chairman said. “We also built a fusion center in southern Israel for command and control. We’ve exercised it, and as a result, when the issue occurred in Gaza last year they were very skilled in integrating their air and missile defense system.”
The United States has committed to sustain the system and to “thicken” it, because the threat is increasing, not decreasing, he said.
Army Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, the commander in chief of the Israel Defense Force, hosted Dempsey. The chairman also met with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon.
Dempsey told the Israeli leaders that America’s commitment to Israel is firm, and that the cooperation between the two militaries is rock solid. “The purpose of the visit is transitional,” the chairman said. “We’ve really solidified our relationship of the last few years in the face of increasing disorder around Israel.”
Syria has disintegrated, and Iran and its proxies threaten Israel. An Israeli military official, speaking on background, called Iran the greatest danger to his nation.
Israelis are worried about what effect a deal with Iran to curtail its nuclear ambitions will have on the region. “Regarding Iran, if there is a nuclear deal with Iran, we have work to do,” Dempsey said. “If there is no deal with Iran, we have work to do.”
If there is a deal, he explained, this does not let Iran off the hook for its other malign activities in the region. Iran is proliferating ballistic missile technology, it is trafficking weapons in the region, and it is operating throughout the region via surrogates and proxies, the chairman said. Iranian moves with naval mines and undersea activities are another concern, Dempsey said, as is Iran’s threat in cyberspace.
Partners Want Assurances
American partners in the region want to be reassured that if there is a nuclear deal, then the United States won’t ignore these other activities, he said. “We’re clear-eyed about the risks that Iran poses to the region,” the chairman added, “and we will work with those partners to address those risks.”
Dempsey said he also spoke with Israeli officials about maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region and in pursuing a quantitative military edge.
Qualitative and Quantitative Military Edge
“As regional groups and partners increase their capabilities,” he said, “the Israelis, naturally, are going to want have discussions with us about how to maintain not only a qualitative military edge, but a quantitative military edge.”
In response to the Iranian threat, nations in the region are growing their air forces, ground forces and maritime forces.
“Israel wants to be sure we are not just helping them on the qualitative side, but also attuned to the fact that while we encourage our Gulf partners to build capability to offset Iran and these substate actors like ISIL -- that they don’t grow so much in size that they become an overmatch in the region,” Dempsey said.
Israel will be the only country in the region with the F-35 Lighting II joint strike fighter, he noted, and that will give them a qualitative advantage. Still, the chairman said, he reassured Israeli officials that the United States is attuned to their concerns and will work with them on mitigating any risk to them.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)