Thursday's arrival of Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, just four months after he took office as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, underscores Washington's concern about a possible Israeli military strike. It also spotlights key questions at the center of the global maneuvering to prevent an Iranian bomb: How effective are the current economic sanctions in pressuring Iran's leadership? Israel wants a far tougher regime, while the Americans seem confident the current path will suffice.
Could aerial bombardment or missile strikes, the expected Israeli military toolkit, damage nuclear installations deep underground enough to be worth a counterstrike from Iran? Some think Israel is mainly saber-rattling to scare governments into tougher sanctions.
Might covert activity suffice? Iranian scientists and military officials have been killed, computer viruses unleashed, a missile base blown up. Finger-pointing and denials abound; evidence about who's behind it all does not.
Could Israel really surprise Washington, its main ally and protector, with a military move that could affect America itself, in an election year to boot? Israeli officials have not pledged to give advance warning. In the background, rarely openly discussed, is the somewhat prickly relationship between the Obama administration and the rightist government in Israel.
The antipathy, born largely of disagreements on the Palestinian front, may not be helping navigate a situation as delicate as Iran.