JERUSALEM (AP) — The United States and Britain on Sunday urged Israel not to attack Iran’s nuclear program as the White House’s national security adviser arrived in the region, reflecting growing international jitters that the Israelis are poised to strike.
In their warnings, both U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and British Foreign Minister William Hague said an Israeli attack on Iran would have grave consequences for the entire region and urged Israel to give international sanctions against Iran more time to work. Gen. Dempsey said an Israeli attack is “not prudent,” and Mr. Hague said it would not be “a wise thing.”
Both the U.S. and the European Union have imposed harsh new sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector, the lifeline of the Iranian economy. With the sanctions just beginning to bite, they have expressed optimism that Iran can be persuaded to curb its nuclear ambitions.
On Sunday, Iran’s Oil Ministry said it had halted oil shipments to Britain and France in an apparent pre-emptive blow against the European Union. The semiofficial Mehr news agency said the National Iranian Oil Co. has sent letters to some European refineries with an ultimatum to either sign long-term contracts of two to five years or be cut off. The 27-nation EU accounts for about 18 percent of Iran’s oil exports.
Israel has welcomed the sanctions, but it pointedly has refused to rule out military action and in recent weeks has sent signals that its patience is running thin.
Israel believes a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its very existence, citing Iran’s support for Arab militant groups, its sophisticated arsenal of missiles capable of reaching Israel and its leaders’ calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.
There is precedent for Israeli action. In 1981, the Israeli air force destroyed an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor. And in 2007, Israeli warplanes are believed to have destroyed a target that foreign experts think was an unfinished nuclear reactor in Syria.
Experts, however, have questioned how much an Israeli operation would accomplish. With Iran’s nuclear installations scattered and buried deep underground, it is believed that an Iranian strike would set back, but not destroy, Iran’s nuclear program.
There are also concerns Iran could fire missiles at Israel, get its local proxies Hezbollah and Hamas to launch rockets into the Jewish state, and cause global oil prices to spike by striking targets in the Gulf.
In an interview broadcast on CNN on Sunday, Gen. Dempsey said Israel has the capability to strike Iran and delay the Iranians “probably for a couple of years, but some of the targets are probably beyond their reach.”
He expressed concern that an Israeli attack could spark reprisals against U.S. targets in the Gulf or Afghanistan, where American forces are based.
Describing Iran as a “rational actor,” Gen. Dempsey said he believed that the international sanctions on Iran are beginning to have an effect. “For that reason, I think, that we think the current path we’re on is the most prudent path at this point.”