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Israel attack would delay, not destroy, Iran nuclear programme – Senior US General | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat – US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, stressed that “we are collaborating with neighbours of Syria in a number of ways in intelligence sharing and military cooperative planning. We have been in consultation with them about humanitarian safe zones and what it would take to do so and what would be the implications” adding “for the most part we have been looking at that inside Turkey or inside Jordan to help them with their refugee problem.”

However the US general also acknowledged that “I have not had any conversations about the establishment of a safe zone inside Syria. That would, of course, be a significant decision that would have implications for the law of armed conflict.”

General Dempsey, who was in London to attend the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games, revealed that “I have had consultations with my Turkish opposite number and he has indicated that any broader discussion of activities inside Syria would need to be conducted through NATO…and they have not done that yet, to my knowledge.”

Responding to an Asharq Al-Awsat question, the senior US military general stressed that “if you establish a humanitarian zone you would need to protect it…that could mean a no-fly zone or inderdicting missile systems.” He stressed that “if you establish a humanitarian zone you obligate yourself to protect those who seek shelter in it.”

As for the possibility of arming the Syrian opposition, General Dempsey said “I have not been asked if I would advocate lethal aid, but…if the conflict turned into a proxy war, that would be a tragedy for the Syrian people.”

Answering an Asharq Al-Awsat question regarding the possibility of Israel attacking Iran, the US General stressed that such an attack would “delay, but probably not destroy, Iran’s nuclear programme.” He added that he thought it unlikely that the Israelis would inform their allies, including the US, prior to carrying out such an attack.

As for the recent interview given by al-Assad, during which the Syrian president acknowledged that there is no end in sight to the country’s 17-month old civil war, General Dempsey said “there was a degree of arrogance in that interview that causes me concern that he won’t seek to resolve this thing through a political process.”

When asked how long the Syrian crisis may endure, Dempsey said “there is a wide discrepancy of though on how long this conflict can go on. There is consensus that the longer it goes on the worse it is for the Syrian people in the sense that you do approach that point where the institutions of Syria begin to falter and you have the risk of a failed state.”

Commenting on fears regarding what will happen to Syria’s chemical and biological weapons stockpile should the regime collapse, he stressed “we have been very clear that we hold the regime responsible for securing that stockpile” adding “we have planning teams working with regional partners in the event that the al-Assad regime does fall.” He added “the planning effort is how to ensure the security and stability of that stockpile whatever circumstance occurs. But as you know it is a significant stockpile spread over a number of sites…so it’s a difficult challenge.”

As for US President Barack Obama’s recent warning that the use of chemical weapons by Syria is a “red line” and that there would be “enormous consequences” if there is any movement in this regard, General Dempsey stressed that “the president was not saying use of chemical weapons would automatically lead to the use of force. He said those who choose to use WMDs against the population would be held accountable” adding “he was also not suggesting that anything up to that point was acceptable.”

As for the US presence in the region, General Dempsey said “US military assets in the region are not there with regard to Syria. They are there to support the NATO effort in Afghanistan and secondarily to deter Iran form any activity…to close the Strait of Hormuz or interdict maritime resources.”

Moving on to other issues, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff revealed that he was just back from Afghanistan, adding that in his opinion, “the development of Afghan security forces is ahead of what we expected.”

Commenting on so-called “green on blue” attacks, the US General said “for years the Taliban has been calling on Afghan security forces to rise up against foreign forces. The upsurge in such attacks is because we increased recruitment very rapidly.” He added that these attacks have exposed “vulnerabilities” in the vetting process, whilst also acknowledging that “the Taliban has increased its effort to reach out to young men via social media.”

He stressed that “if our objectives [in Afghanistan] are sound, and I haven’t heard anyone challenge the objectives, then the path is clear. We have to develop the Afghan security forces in order to pass transition to them responsibly by the end of 2014 – and we will.”

General Dempsey added “We have not decided on the size of our presence post 2014. After 2014 there are ways to scope the mission and lower our exposure.”

He also asserted that “we have to work with, encourage and insist that our Afghan partners help us solve this problem. This is not one we can solve by ourselves.”

Commenting on these so-called “insider” attacks on US and foreign troops in Afghanistan by members of Afghan security forces, Dempsey agreed that “75 percent of attacks stem from personal and cultural differences and 25 percent from Taliban initiative.”

He revealed that “the Afghans are changing the way they recruit and vet their forces. In the past soldiers who went absent without leave were assumed to be at home, but some were being radicalized.

He added “the Afghans have to take action to understand what is going on inside their formations. We cannot do much with that…they have to be as serious about this as we are.”

General Dempsey complained that “the attack gets all the notoriety…but in half to two-thirds of cases the soldier that reacts to the attack is an Afghan soldier trying to protect us.”