Text size

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, said last week in Washington that a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel.

Mullen said he would prefer that the U.S. work diplomatically to keep the country from acquiring nuclear weapons, but hinted that should such efforts fail, the U.S. air force and navy could be put into action as well.

Ahead of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's visit to the Pentagon this week, Israeli military sources said they were satisfied with the progress in talks with their American counterparts over acquiring F-35 fighter jets. Israel will pay $135 million per jet if it buys 25, and $100 million if it buys 75.

Meanwhile, Washington has retracted its opposition to installing Israeli-made systems on the jets. However, a disagreement over Israel's request for complete access to the planes' computer systems is yet to be resolved.

At a conference at the National Press Club, Mullen said he has spent a significant amount of time with his Israeli counterpart, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and that "it's very clear to me that a nuclear weapon in Iran is an existential threat to Israel," according to a transcript released by his office.

"There is no doubt in my mind that's how the Israelis feel," he said, adding, "Given that view, [and] their sense of both focus and urgency ... it is up front. It is at the top of their list."

Mullen has held frequent talks with Ashkenazi over the past two years. The most recent was last month in Normandy, France.

Ashkenazi, his deputy Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz, and Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz (head of the Military Intelligence research division), met last week with Adm. James Stavridis, the commander of U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and NATO supreme allied commander of Europe, while Stavridis visited Israel with several of his top officers.

Israel is within EUCOM's area of responsibility, but lately ties have grown tighter between Israel and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for Iran.

Hinting at differences in perceptions between the administrations in Washington and Jerusalem, Mullen said Iran's nuclear program appears "to be the No. 1 priority for Israel, and certainly it's a very high priority for us."

Mullen added that a nuclear Iran would undermine the stability of a region that is already highly unstable, and that he supports U.S. President Barack Obama's view that "the goal is to make sure that they don't get a nuclear weapon. At the same time, a strike on Iran, getting into a conflict with Iran, I think would also be incredibly destabilizing."