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A Big Deal?

Mullen won't promise not to open fire on the Israelis.

10:19 AM, Apr 21, 2010 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Noah Shachtman reports:

In a town hall on the campus of the University of West Virginia, a young airman asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen to respond to a “rumor.” If Israel decided to attack Iran, the speculation went, those jet would need to fly through Iraqi airspace to reach their targets. That airspace is considered a “no-fly” zone by the American military. So might U.S. troops shoot down the Israeli jets, the airmen asked the chairman, if they breached that airspace?

Mullen tried to sidestep the question. “We have an exceptionally strong relationship with Israel. I’ve spent a lot of time with my counterpart in Israel. So we also have a very clear understanding of where we are. And beyond that, I just wouldn’t get into the speculation of what might happen and who might do what. I don’t think it serves a purpose, frankly,” he said. “I am hopeful that this will be resolved in a way where we never have to answer a question like that.”

The airmen followed-up: “Would an airmen like me ever be ordered to fire on an Israeli – aircraft or personnel?”

Mullen’s second answer was much the same as his first. “Again, I wouldn’t move out into the future very far from here. They’re an extraordinarily close ally, have been for a long time, and will be in the future,” the admiral said.

Jen Rubin reacts

It’s a bit mind-boggling that the answer wouldn’t be “no,” or at least “we’d never reach that point.” Something better than leaving the suggestion hanging that Zbigniew Brzezinski’s advice about shooting down Israeli planes might be in the cards. It’s fascinating, really: the administration goes to great pains to rule out military force against Iran but thinks it’s important to leave strategic ambiguity with respect to our ally Israel. Only in this administration could we reach such a dismal point.

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