Disagreements over the time left to stop Iran’s nuclear program remained in place on Wednesday after a day of meetings visiting US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta held with Israel’s leadership.
Throughout his day – which included talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, as well as a visit to an Iron Dome counter-rocket defense battery – Panetta stressed the US’s commitment to stopping Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“If they make the decision to proceed with a nuclear weapon... we have options that we are prepared to implement to ensure that that does not happen,” Panetta said.
Later in the day, he said unequivocally that the US would not let Tehran get nuclear weapons.
“I want to reassert again the position of the United States that with regard to Iran, we will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period,” he said. “We will not allow them to develop a nuclear weapon, and we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen.”
While Barak and Netanyahu praised Israel’s alliance with the US, they both warned that time was running out.
“We clearly have something to lose by this stretched time [during] which sanctions and diplomacy takes place, because the Iranians are moving forward, not just in enrichment,” Barak said.
Speaking before meeting Panetta in his office, Netanyahu said the constant rhetoric about all options being on the table regarding Iran has not moved the ayatollahs.
Although acknowledging that sanctions have had an affect, and predicting the recent sanctions US President Barack Obama and Congress have advanced will have an even greater impact, Netanyahu said neither the sanctions nor the diplomacy have had any influence on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program.
Noting that Panetta said recently that if all else fails America would act, the prime minister said that “however forceful our statements, they have not convinced Iran that we are serious about stopping them. Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program. This must change and it must change quickly, because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.”
Panetta declared that the US “stands firmly with Israel, and we have a rock solid commitment to the security of Israel and to the security of its citizens.
And make no mistake, we will remain determined to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
In an interview on Channel 2 on Tuesday evening, Netanyahu – when asked whether he believes the US when its leaders say unequivocally that they won’t allow Iran to gain nuclear weapons – replied that the “source and foundation of the State of Israel is that we will not leave in the hands of others, not even our best friends, matters concerning our fate.”
Panetta said he was proud of the support the US provided Israel to acquire the “lifesaving capability” provided by the Iron Dome system, and he was also “proud of the defense cooperation that we’ve been able to achieve over the past few years which is really closer than at any point in our history.”
Netanyahu, who on Monday warmly met and welcomed presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was no less warm in his greeting to Panetta, saying that he wanted to “use this opportunity to thank you, President Obama and the American Congress for enhancing the strategic relationship between our two countries.”
This bipartisan support for Israel was “deeply appreciated,” the prime minister stressed.