US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Israel must repair its relations with regional
partners such as Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, US Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta (pictured) said on Friday evening during an event hosted by the
Brooking Institution’s Saban Center think tank in Washington.
also warned against possible unintended outcomes of a strike on Iran,
although he emphasized that the military option was still on the table
as far as Washington was concerned.
Panetta criticized what he described as Israel’s “isolation,” he
recognized that Israel has been the victim of an “international
campaign” to discredit the country.
“Unfortunately, over the past
year, we’ve seen Israel’s isolation from its traditional security
partners in the region grow, and the pursuit of a comprehensive Middle
East peace has effectively been put on hold,” he said.
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by a participant about the stalled peace talks with the Palestinians,
the 73- year-old former CIA director growled that “the problem now is
that we can’t get to the damn table.”
While not responding
directly to Panetta’s comments about getting “to the damn table,” Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said Saturday night
that Israel has “been repeatedly calling for a resumption of the peace
Regev pointed out that Netanyahu stood at the UN on
September 23 and said he would meet with Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas anywhere and anytime, including right there in New York.
Regev said that Israel also immediately accepted the Quartet’s framework
for restarting talks, which was also issued on September 23, but that
the Palestinians rejected it.
“The prime minister has repeatedly
said he was willing to meet Abbas in Ramallah, or invite him to
Jerusalem, but the answer has always been negative,” he said.
“We are ready and remain ready for the immediate resumption of talks without preconditions.
The problem has been that the Palestinians have not taken that position. We hope that changes.”
In addition to his tough talk, Panetta said that the Obama administration had some “carrots” for Jerusalem as well.
he said, would retain its regional military edge, with Washington
providing missile defense systems and cutting-edge F-35 fighter jets.
addition, he reiterated the administration’s commitment to prevent Iran
from manufacturing nuclear weapons, and that the Obama administration
had not ruled out military action. He described such a response as “a
last resort,” saying that the first choice was to continue the current
policies of diplomacy and sanctions.
“Frankly, some of those
[Iranian] targets are very difficult to get at,” said Panetta, echoing a
comment made by then- Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain
Cain was mocked following a GOP debate when it seemed
like he said that Iran’s mountainous territory would present an
obstacle for US bombers.
Panetta also warned that such an attack
was likely to merely delay – and not end – Iran’s nuclear development,
and could also yield “unintended consequences” regarding regional
stability, including restoring public support for President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, shaking already unstable Western economies and provoking
Iranian attacks against US forces.
Regarding Panetta’s comments
about Iran, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Saturday on Channel 2’s
Meet the Press program that, while it would be “excellent” to stop
Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy, “all the options are on the
Barak played down speculation that Israel and US-led
allies were waging a clandestine war on Iran, saying sanctions and the
threat of military strikes were still the way to curb its nuclear
The defense minister, after being asked whether two
explosions in Iran last month showed that “the war has already begun”
through sabotage, said that he believed that this was not the case.
“I don’t think so,” he told Channel 2. “I think that the answer to your question is negative.”
Barak’s remarks signaled doubt in the long-term efficacy of any such tactics.
have nothing to say about the actions themselves. I just say that if
you compare the situation eight years ago, or four years ago, to today’s
situation, the Iranians are much closer to nuclear capability,” he
Despite the recent explosion in Iran, Barak said that, “as time goes by, Iran is getting closer.”
the sanctions have to be intensified, quick, determined...and therefore
everyone is saying that no option should be taken off the table,” Barak
added, using a phrase favored by Israel and the United States to show
that they consider military strikes on Iran’s nuclear sites a last-ditch
“Israel is a sovereign state,” he said. “It is a strong
and important country in the region. The Iranian challenge is a
challenge for the whole world and also not simple for Israel. In the
final analysis, Israel is responsible for its security, future and
existence. Israel cannot free itself from taking decisions as a
One of last month’s explosions in Iran killed
at least a dozen members of the Revolutionary Guards, including a
general. Iran called it an accident that occurred while weapons were
The Iranians have suffered from computer viruses in
industrial systems. Several nuclear scientists have been killed or
disappeared over the years in what Tehran says were Israeli or US covert
The idea that such operations may have escalated to
include spectacular blasts with double-digit death tolls has stirred
concern in Israel, where some commentators warned of a possible
spillover into reprisals by Iran or its sympathizers abroad.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.