Panetta: 'Little red lines' on Iran a political ploy

US defense secretary confirms US has sent military assets to ME, N. Africa that can be deployed to quell ongoing protests.

Netanyahu, Panetta shake hands 370 (photo credit: Screenshot)
Netanyahu, Panetta shake hands 370
(photo credit: Screenshot)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is attempting to pin US President Barack Obama into a corner by demanding the US president delineate "little red lines" which if passed would prompt US military action against Iran's nuclear facilities, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta claimed Friday night.
In an interview with Foreign Policy's National Security Channel, Panetta dismissed Netanyahu's engagement of Obama on the issue of preemption, saying, "The fact is [that] presidents of the United States, prime ministers of Israel or any other country - leaders of these countries don't have, you know, a bunch of little red lines that determine their decisions."
"What they have," Panetta asserted "are facts that are presented to them about what a country is up to, and then they weigh what kind of action is needed to be taken in order to deal with that situation. I mean, that's the real world. Red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner."
Despite the apparent friction between the US and Israel over Iran, Panetta dismissed the notion of a rupture in relations between the two countries.
"Let's just say, when you have friends like Israel you engage in vigorous debates about how you confront these issues," he said. "And that's what's going on."
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threatClick here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
When asked about the ongoing protests throughout the Middle East and North Africa over the the Innocence of Muslims film, Panetta confirmed the US had upped its preparedness by positioning forces that could be deployed to as many as 18 countries in the event they are needed to quell unrest.
Panetta said that the US is "paying particular attention" to a number of countries in the region, where demonstrations erupted this week in defiance of a US-based amateur movie which denigrated the Islamic prophet Mohammed.
While Panetta admitted the region is experiencing "convulsions" following last year's Arab Spring, and that al-Qaida and other terrorist elements are trying to capitalize on the resulting power vacuum, he nonetheless warned against discounting the general shift towards democracy. "[O]ne demonstration of extremists," he said, "any more than a Ku Klux Klan demonstration in the United States, is not necessarily reflective of what the rest of the country feels."
With respect to the attack on the US' mission in Bengahzi,  Libya, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens, two former Navy SEALs, and a State Department worker were killed, Panetta reiterated that authorities had yet to identify the perpetrators. According to the defense secretary, "it's something that's under assessment and under investigation, to determine just exactly what happened here."
He conceded, however, that al-Qaida has become more active in Libya and across North Africa, but denied that this reality conflicts with his statement last year that the terror group was nearing "strategic defeat."
"The al-Qaida that attacked the United States of America on 9/11, we have gone after in a big way," he said," but "we always knew that we would have to continue to confront elements of extremism elsewhere as well."