As next year’s presidential election approaches, US President Barack Obama’s policies have moved in a more pro-Israel direction and his supporters have been desperately trying to make the case that he is Israel’s friend.

Last week’s comments by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have done much to undermine that case, however, and appeared to make Israel the scapegoat for any negative consequences that could arise from the Jewish state having the audacity to defend itself against the existential threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Worse than the actual comments were the disturbing anti-Semitic undertones inherent in Panetta’s remarks. The secretary warned of the potential negative consequences to the world economy of a military strike against Iran, but he only raised the danger to the world economy before the discussion with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The impact on the economy would apply to any country attacking Iran, but the timing of his remarks were clearly aimed at Israel as that meeting took place amid a flurry of reports about Israel considering an imminent attack.

Panetta also suggested an attack on Iran would have “a serious impact on US forces in the region.” This comment appears to reflect the view of Arabists within the Obama administration that Israeli actions and US support for Israel endanger Americans. This noxious idea surfaced earlier in a Pentagon paper submitted to Congress, which said the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the “perception of US favoritism for Israel” were responsible for anti-American sentiment.

The truth, however, is that US troops are targets of Islamic extremists and other anti-American elements in the Middle East because of who they are, what they represent and their presence in the region, not because of anything Israel says or does. Shouts of “Death to America” in Tehran, Iranian aid to insurgents in Iraq and plots against a Saudi diplomat in Washington have nothing to do with Israel.

Setting aside Israel for a moment, Panetta’s comments also undermined US policy toward Iran. In the past, the president had said that all options were “on the table” for stopping Iran’s nuclear program. Now, his defense secretary has taken the most serious threat out of the equation.

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