USS Ronald Reagan navy 311 R.
(photo credit: Reuters)
WASHINGTON – The US would use military force against Iran if all else failed, US
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta declared on Monday, labeling Iran’s quest for
nuclear weapons the biggest menace facing the United States.
threat exists to Israel, to the entire region, and indeed to the United States,
than a nuclear-armed Iran,” Panetta told the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee’s Policy Conference. “Military action is the last alternative if all
else fails, but make no mistake: When all else fails, we will
Though members of the US administration – including President
Barack Obama during his own speech to AIPAC on Sunday – have spoken repeatedly
about the danger Iran poses, it is rare for administration officials to give it
such primacy. And Panetta’s warning that America was positioned to use force if
necessary also went further than most officials’ previous
Throughout his remarks, the defense secretary stressed the US
commitment to Israel’s security, the steps it had taken to maintain Israel’s
qualitative military edge and the countries’ shared regional concerns.
also stressed the importance of working together in facing those threats,
“Our shared desire and our shared commitment to
working together are absolutely essential,” he said. “We are stronger when we
act as one.”
Some saw his words as a signal to Israel to coordinate with
the US as it contemplates acting against Iran, though in his speech, Panetta
also spoke repeatedly of the close ties he enjoyed with top Israeli
He noted that the first congratulations he had received after
the Navy Seals’ mission killed Osama bin Laden had been from “my buddies in
Panetta also pointed to the advanced weaponry with which the US
will be supplying Israel, including the most advanced fighter jet, the F35, and
its intensive joint operations – among them the largest-ever anticipated
exercise, Austere Challenge, which he said would be held later in the year after
Israel postponed it this winter.
The former CIA chief devoted one of the
more extensive portions of his speech to detailing US assistance to Israel’s
missile defense system. The Obama administration has come under intense
criticism from Republicans for proposing a $6 million cut to the roughly $100m.
allocation to the joint US-Israel program in 2013, which comes on top of $3.1
billion in other military assistance to Israel slated for the same
The Obama administration sent several representatives to the
three-day conference of America’s largest pro-Israel lobby to make the case that
it has been a strong defender of Israel. It is rare to have both the president
and top cabinet official address the group, and Panetta himself noted he was the
first defense secretary to address the AIPAC Policy Conference in more than 20
Panetta’s speech was sandwiched between appearances by three of
the four Republican presidential candidates, who countered his words with
accusations that the Obama administration had not done enough for Israel.
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