By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 2, 2008 - Back from a trip to Israel, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today there is broad concern about instability in the Middle East. During a Pentagon news conference, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said it is his view "that Iran is the center of what is unstable in that part of the world, and it reaches from Tehran to Beirut."
Mullen said his two-day visit to Israel was very informative. Israeli Army Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff for the Israeli Defense Force, hosted the admiral. Mullen also met Defense Minister Ehud Barak and toured Israeli bases in the north near the border with Syria and Lebanon and in the south near the Gaza Strip.
"Whenever I visit Israel, I always am struck by the very real threats they face and what I call the tyranny of 'close-quarters geography,'" he said.
The prime reason for the trip was to reaffirm the close alliance between the United States and Israel and to forge the personal relationships that underpin the relationship. It was the chairman's third visit with Ashkenazi since taking office in October.
While the chairman would not talk about specifics of the meetings, he did say Iran was mentioned.
"My position with regard to the Iranian regime has not changed," the chairman said. "They remain a destabilizing factor in the area. I'm convinced the solution still lies in using other elements of national power to change Iranian behavior, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure."
Iran still is working to develop nuclear weapons, and that needs to be stopped, Mullen said. Iran supports Hezbollah and Hamas -- both terrorist groups -- and Syria. "The network they support is a very dangerous one and a destabilizing one," he said.
The chairman said a broad concern exists for the overall stability level in the Middle East. "From the U.S. military perspective, opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us -- that doesn't mean we don't have capacity or reserves -- that would really very challenging, and the consequences on that would be difficult to predict," he said.
"Every move in the Middle East is a high-risk move, and that's why it is so important that the international, financial, economic and diplomatic pieces be brought to bear with a level of intensity that resolves this," Mullen said.
Iran has threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz if Israel attacks Iran's nuclear structures. About 80 percent of the world's oil flows through the strategic straits.
The Iranian threat to close the Straits of Hormuz if attacked concerns American military planners, the chairman said. The Iranians "have capabilities that could certainly hazard the Straits of Hormuz, but ... I believe the ability to sustain that is not there," he said.