Sanctions are not stopping Iran’s atomic program, the top U.S. general responsible for the Middle East told a Senate panel Wednesday, and if necessary, Israel has the intention and means to degrade the program without American help.
The Times of Israel picked up what the paper described as a little-noticed exchange between Gen. James Mattis and Sen. Lindsey Graham during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing held Tuesday. Mattis – the outgoing head of U.S. Army Central Command – said he had no doubt Jerusalem would strike Iran if it believes Tehran had reached a “critical point” in what is widely suspected to be the regime’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons:
Mattis, who is retiring this month as head of the US army’s Central Command, which includes the Middle East and North Africa, was responding to questions from Sen. Lindsey Graham, who asked him whether he believed Israel would strike at Iran if the regime “reached a critical point in terms of nuclear capability.” Responded Mattis: “The Israelis have said so; I take them at their word.” Graham followed up by asking whether Israel would need US assistance to carry out such an attack. Said Mattis, “They could conduct a strike without our help.”
Mattis’s back-and-forth with Graham also included a discussion regarding the impact that sanctions are having in changing the Iranian government’s calculus regarding its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Mattis emphasized – bluntly – that the current sanctions regime is inadequate to alter the Tehran’s decision-making:
“”In your professional opinion, are the current diplomatic and economic efforts to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability – are they working?” Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, asked. “No, sir,” Mattis replied…
Mattis said Iran might be able to be swayed by “a purely cost-benefit ratio.” “Between economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, and encouragement of behavior that does not cost them such a degree of political support that they end up losing power, there may yet be a way to bring them to their senses,” Mattis said. Asked by Graham if the only other option is bringing them “to their knees,” Mattis responded, “yes, sir.”
The Marine Corps four-star general said he believes the Islamic Republic is trying to “buy time” with negotiations, and that it remains the single most significant regional threat to stability and prosperity.
Mattis replaced David Petraeus at CENTCOM in 2010 when the latter took the helm of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan. He is scheduled to leave Central Command – headquartered at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base – this month, and he will be replaced by Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd Austin.