Panetta arrives in Israel 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy of US Embassy Tel Aviv)
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Israel Monday morning, where he was set to hold meetings with Defense
Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to discuss
bilateral defense relations as well as major security issues.
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Aboard a military aircraft Sunday, the defense secretary warned that Israel was becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East
but said US security commitments should enable it to take "risks for
Panetta's trip was his first to Israel since becoming Pentagon chief. He said he would reaffirm US security
commitments to Israel and try to help improve increasingly chilly
relations with Turkey and Egypt.
pretty clear, at this dramatic time in the Middle East when there have
been so many changes, that it is not a good situation for Israel to
become increasingly isolated. And that is what has happened," Panetta
told reporters on his plane.
"The timing (of Panetta's visit)
couldn't be more apt given the events unfolding in the region and broad
range of important issues on the agenda with the Israelis and the
Egyptians," a US senior defense official said, speaking on condition of
important thing is to again reaffirm our strong security relationship
with Israel, to make clear that we will protect their qualitative
military edge," Panetta said. "As they take risks for peace, we will be
able to provide the security that they will need in order to ensure that
they can have the room hopefully to negotiate."
Panetta said he
was confident Israel had maintained its military superiority in the
region "but the question you have to ask is - is it enough to maintain
an military edge if you are isolating yourself diplomatically?"
security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as
well as a strong effort to project your military strength," he said.Iran and its nuclear program
will be on the agenda. Panetta said with much of the world opposed to
Iran developing its nuclear capabilities, it would be best to work
together to try to curb Tehran's ambitions rather than take unilateral
In a session officials said was added to the itinerary "relatively
recently," the US defense secretary will meet Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad to re-engage the Palestinians just days after opposing their bid
for statehood at the United Nations.
Panetta said he would stress to both sides that it was important to
begin negotiations on a settlement rather than setting conditions for
talks or seeking other approaches to resolve the issue.
"The most important thing they can do is go to the negotiating table,"
he said. "You are not going to achieve Middle East peace by trying to
slam-dunk it at the UN The only way you're going to achieve it is by