US general in Israel as France warns against Iran strike

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Israel 's Chief of Staff Lieutenant Benny Gantz (R), US military chief Martin Dempsey (C) and US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro (L) salute during an official ceremony at the Rabin military base in Tel Aviv on 20 January 2012. (Photo: AFP - Jack Guez)

Published Friday, January 20, 2012

America's top general flew into Israel on Friday for talks that observers believe are aimed at restraining the Jewish state from a unilateral strike against Iran.

In a visit set to last a few hours, General Martin Dempsey is meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel's military chief, Lieutenant-General Benny Ganz, and President Shimon Peres.

The general urged greater cooperation between the two states regarding Iran's nuclear program, which both fear is covertly developing weapons capability despite Tehran's strong objections.

"We have many interests in common in the region in this very dynamic time and the more we can continue to engage each other, the better off we'll all be," General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was quoted as saying by the Israeli defense ministry.

Obama sent his top general to Israel amid rising concerns that the Jewish state may launch military strikes against Iran without seeking US approval.

Dempsey said last November he did not know whether Israel would alert the United States beforehand if it decided to take military action against Iran.

Fears of a military confrontation also prompted a stern warning from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who said on Friday that a strike on Iran would trigger "war and chaos" in the Middle East.

"France will do everything to avoid a military intervention," Sarkozy said before an audience of senior diplomats in Paris, calling instead for a "much stronger" sanctions regime to be imposed on Tehran.

"A military intervention would not solve the problem but would unleash war and chaos in the Middle East and perhaps the world," he warned.

Sarkozy's warning echoes similar remarks from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said this week that military action against Iran would be a "catastrophe" and unleash regional war in the Middle East.

France has been one of the loudest Western voices pushing for economic sanctions to force Iran to abandon its nuclear program, but remains opposed to calls from some hawks in the United States and Israel for air strikes against Iranian facilities.

The United Arab Emirates added to calls for calm, cautioning against further escalation in the Persian Gulf.

"It's important to get far away from any escalation and we stress the stability of the region. I welcome the comments of my colleague the Iranian foreign minister to create distance from any escalation," UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan was quoted as saying by state news agency WAM on Friday.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi sought to soothe tensions on Thursday, saying regional "peace and tranquility" was in the interest of all.

But Salehi warned neighboring states – notably Gulf Arab states – not to put themselves in a "dangerous position" by aligning themselves too closely with the United States.

Iran insists its nuclear fuel enrichment program is designed to produce fuel for reactors in future civilian power stations and for medical isotopes.

China and Russia have criticized new US and British unilateral sanctions against Tehran, and are deeply concerned at the prospects of a confrontation between Iran and the West.

US, Europe and Gulf Arab states are coordinating to impose further sanctions targeting Iran's oil industry, but some fear it may not be enough to convince Israel from launching a military strike.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has maintained the pressure on his Western allies, saying on Monday that sanctions on Iran were ineffective and needed to be hardened.

Israel is the only Middle Eastern state known to possess a nuclear arsenal, and fears its military supremacy in the region could be compromised by a nuclear Iran.

Iran has slammed Western double standards over Israel's nuclear program, which has avoided international scrutiny.

(Al-Akhbar, Reuters, AFP)

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