The newsworthy comments from Mattis – who is about to retire as head of the U.S. Army’s Central Command, which includes the Middle East and North Africa – came while he was answering questions from Senator Lindsey Graham, who had asked him whether he believed Israel would attack Iran if that country “reached a critical point in terms of nuclear capability.” Mattis responded, “The Israelis have said so; I take them at their word.”
Senator Graham followed up this exchange by asking the general if he thought Israel would require American help to successfully implement such an attack. In response, Mattis declared, “They could conduct a strike without our help.”
When he was then queried if he felt the United States should provide assistance to Israel with a military strike on Iran, General Mattis said, “That would depend on what the objective of the strike is. Is it to stop them, is it to delay them, is it how long do you want to delay them, is there a broader effort…?”
Last summer, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, stated that he would not want to be “complicit” in an Israeli military action against Iran, which he worried might jeopardize United States-led international pressure on Iran if it was carried out prior to the optimal time.
Senator Graham proceeded to ask General Mattis what type of attack he would recommend were the United States to carry one out – a limited strike or one that focused on diminishing the capabilities of Iran’s navy, air force and Revolutionary Guard. Mattis answered that “I owe confidentiality to the president” on that question.
Lastly, Graham asked the general whether he felt a nuclear-armed Iran would inspire other countries in the region to attempt obtaining similar nuclear capabilities. Mattis said he had been informed by “the leadership” of at least one Sunni state that they would most assuredly pursue nuclear power in such an eventuality, and he believed their fellow Middle Eastern states would do the same.
In the same Armed Services Committee session, General Mattis asserted that sanctions were not impeding Iran’s nuclear progress, adding that he had prepared a detailed military option for President Obama.
When Mattis was asked whether “the current diplomatic and economic efforts to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capability” were having their desired effect, he answered simply, “No, sir.”
The general said the regime in Iran knows “it can’t win the affection of its own people,” was worried that sanctions could cause its citizens to turn against it, and might actually be willing to forsake its nuclear program if it seriously feared its ability to remain in power. “I think we have to continue sanctions, but have other options ready,” Mattis commented.
The general said Iran could be persuaded to change its course by “a purely cost-benefit ratio,” but at the present moment, he noted, the “nuclear industry continues” on track, despite strong sanctions.
“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,” General Mattis stated.
These methods designed to bring Iran “to its knees,” Mattis said in response to another question, did not necessarily involve “open conflict,” but a military operation is “one of the options that I have to have prepared for the president.”
Mattis’s statements came in the midst of a new effort by the West to impede Iran’s nuclear program through diplomatic means, and echoed comments made last week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We have to stop Iran’s nuclear enrichment program before it’s too late. Words alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if sanctions fail,” Netanyahu emphasized to 13,000 AIPAC supporters in Washington by satellite feed from Jerusalem.
In an earlier speech, Vice President Biden told the same audience that President Obama isn’t bluffing when he says he will take military action, if it is finally deemed necessary, to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
An Iranian spokesman said last week that his country’s nuclear discussions with world powers produced “positive results,” and he condemned what he termed “negative” remarks by some Western officials following those negotiations.
According to Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, some Western officials and media outlets are attempting to present the results of the latest talks in Kazakhstan in a bad light because of their own political agenda.
“It is a matter of surprise that some Western and regional countries, as well as their media outlets, are trying to cast a negative image on the talks, which had positive conclusions,” stated Mehmanparast.