Panetta: US will use force against Iran if all else fails

US defense secretary tells AIPAC that "military action is the last alternative... but if all else fails, we will act," stresses steps Obama administration's commitment to Israel's military edge.

USS Ronald Reagan navy 311 R (photo credit: Reuters)
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.
“No greater 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 act.”
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 statements.
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.
He also stressed the importance of working together in facing those threats, particularly Iran.
“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 officials.
He noted that the first congratulations he had received after the Navy Seals’ mission killed Osama bin Laden had been from “my buddies in Mossad.”
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 year.
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 years.
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.