The Obama Administration, still clinging to its failed engagement policy on Iran, is pressuring Israel to hold off launching an attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in self defense. The public admonishment of a close ally is a grave error that is likely to backfire by easing pressure on Iran and ultimately increasing the chances of war.

In a Sunday CNN interview, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that U.S. officials had advised Israel that an immediate attack would be “premature” and counterproductive. He said U.S. officials are not convinced that Tehran has decided to pursue nuclear weapons and that sanctions are starting to bite: “On that basis, I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us.” General Dempsey said that he is confident that the Israelis “understand our concerns, that a strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives.”

That message is likely to be a welcome one in Tehran, where it is likely to reduce the pressure on Iran’s defiant regime to halt its nuclear weapons program. It suggests that the Obama Administration is more concerned about preventing an Israeli attack than in preventing an Iranian nuclear capability, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out today in an editorial.

Sanctions have imposed an increasingly steep price on Iran’s hostile regime for continuing its dangerous policies. But sanctions alone are unlikely to decisively alter Tehran’s nuclear plans any more than they halted North Korea’s nuclear plans. Even many officials within the Obama Administration reportedly recognize this fact.

Only sanctions backed by the credible threat of the use of force are likely to dissuade Tehran from continuing on its nuclear path. Iran in fact did freeze its nuclear program in 2003 after the Bush Administration presented such a credible threat by invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein when he failed to live up to his obligations to destroy his prohibited missiles and weapons of mass destruction programs. Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi also gave up his nuclear and chemical weapons program when he thought that he might be the next target.

But the Obama Administration has preferred to engage the murderous regime in Tehran and misses few opportunities to stress its preference for diplomacy and abhorrence of the military option. This reduces the chances of resolving the problem satisfactorily and ultimately only increases the chances of war. It could lead Israel to take unilateral action to defend itself against Iran’s nuclear menace. Worse yet, it could lead Tehran to miscalculate that it has little to fear if it continues its nuclear defiance.

Instead of pressuring Israel, the Obama Administration should be focused on bringing maximum pressure to bear on Iran.