By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
JERUSALEM, June 10, 2015 – Though the United States and Israel disagree about the proposed deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program, that does not affect America’s unshakable commitment to the defense of Israel, a senior administration official said here today.
Speaking on background, the official said the two countries have a “near identical” understanding of the threat Iran poses to the region.
U.S. and Israeli officials have said Iran cannot be allowed to gain nuclear capability and that all options are on the table to prevent that from happening. Where the two allies diverge is in determining the best way to proceed. The U.S. position is that sanctions and negotiations are the best means to accomplish this, and the Israelis believe Iran cannot be trusted, the official said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the proposed pact with Iran a “grave danger” to Israel and said it legitimized the pariah state’s nuclear program. Iran agreed to the pact April 2, and negotiators are working out the details with a July 1 deadline for a final agreement.
The United States and Israel agree that Iran is a threat with or without nuclear weapons, the official said.
Iran is spreading ballistic missile technology, selling weapons in the region and operating throughout the region via surrogates and proxies, he said. Iranian moves with naval mines and undersea activities are another concern, as is Iran’s threat in cyberspace, the official said. But a nuclear Iran would make all this much worse, he added.
“The threat affects us differently because of our size and location, but we agree on the threat completely,” the official said. “We agree on the strategic objective completely, which is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”
U.S. officials say a pact will include inspection and verification protocols that would preclude Iranian cheating. “We know we need to get a good deal,” the official said. “There isn’t going to be a deal if it doesn’t meet those needs.”
The bottom line is the U.S. commitment to Israeli security is a bedrock commitment deal or no deal, he said.
U.S. support to Israel will continue even after an agreement with Iran, the official said.
“As we look at the world after the negotiations, … we will work with Israel on strengthening security cooperation further,” he said. “If additional elements need to be brought into that security agreement, we will talk together and figure those out.”
That the Israelis look at the situation differently is to be expected, the official acknowledged. They live in the region, and they have heard Iranian leaders “threaten to wipe them off the map,” the official said. “They are the ones who see Iranian proxies from multiple directions being armed and conducting terrorist activities or destabilizing neighbors, or shooting missiles at them,” he added.
“You can absolutely understand that when you sit here and look out at those threats at much closer proximity, … you might have a different calculus on that decision than we do,” he said. “We need to take that into account, and we do, and it frankly informed our decisions.”
It’s never comfortable to have public disagreements with a close friend, the official said.
“Still, it’s a sign of how close the relationship between the United States and Israel is, and how unshakeable -- that even when we have an important disagreement on a serious subject and it’s become public, … all that bedrock joint security cooperation, all that people-to-people work, all the joint economic progress continues apace,” he said.