Panetta, in Israel, stresses that U.S. military action against Iran remains an option (WASHINGTON POST) By Greg Jaffe ASHKELON, Israel 08/02/12)
WASHINGTON POST Articles-Index-Top
ASHKELON, Israel — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta stressed
Wednesday that if economic sanctions do not compel Iran to end its
nuclear program, the United States will have to consider military
options to destroy it.
Panetta’s repeated emphasis on pursuing other options if diplomacy
fails did not mark a change in policy but gave his remarks a harder
edge than his previous statements.
His comments came amid deepening concern that Israel could launch a
unilateral strike on Iran, and as Congress passed a new sanctions
bill on Wednesday aimed at banks, insurance companies and shippers
that assist Iran in selling its oil. There have been a series of
visits to Israel by senior Obama administration officials, who are
pressing the Israelis to give economic sanctions more time to
persuade the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions.
Panetta described the recently imposed economic sanctions as “the
toughest Iran has ever faced” and insisted that they are
working. “The most effective way to stop Iran from obtaining a
nuclear weapon is for the international community to be united,
proving to Iran that it will only make itself less secure if it
continues to try to pursue a nuclear weapon,” he said.
The defense secretary’s statements also came as presumptive
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is making the Obama
administration’s policy toward Iran a campaign issue. While visiting
Israel this week, Romney used sharp language, saying that “any and
all measures” should be considered to prevent Iran from developing
Panetta appeared with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at a
jointly funded U.S.-Israeli anti-rocket battery in southern Israel
and then met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. But
even as Panetta emphasized the Obama administration’s deep opposition
to Iran’s nuclear program and the United States’ close partnership
with Israel, the differences in the American and Israeli views on the
need for urgent military action were clear.
Barak told reporters that the likelihood of sanctions curbing Iranian
nuclear ambitions is “very, extremely low” and suggested that the
Iranians are stalling for time as they move quickly to enrich the
uranium they would need for a nuclear weapon.
“We have clearly something to lose by this stretch of time on which
sanctions and diplomacy take place because the Iranians are moving
forward,” he said, standing next to Panetta.
Netanyahu reiterated that message after his meeting with
Panetta. “However forceful our statements, they have not convinced
Iran that we are serious about stopping them,” Netanyahu said. “Right
now, the Iranian regime believes that the international community
does not have the will to stop its nuclear program. This must change
quickly, because the time to resolve this issue peacefully is running
In remarks that appeared designed to increase pressure on the
Iranians and reassure the Israelis, Panetta said repeatedly that the
United States has developed military options to thwart the Iranian
nuclear program if sanctions fail.
“We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Period,” Panetta
said after his meeting with Netanyahu. “And we will exert all options
in the effort to ensure that that does not happen.” In his appearance
with the Israeli defense minister, Panetta said that it is his
responsibility to “provide the president with a full range of
options, including military options, should diplomacy fail.”
Unlike the U.S. military, the Israel Defense Forces do not have
tankers capable of refueling warplanes in flight, nor is Israel’s
arsenal of bunker-busting bombs thought to be as effective as that of
the United States at taking out deeply buried targets. Those
shortcomings could limit the effectiveness of any unilateral action
by the Israelis against the Iranian nuclear program.
Panetta spent the morning touring the anti-rocket battery, developed
by the Israelis with U.S. assistance and more than $200 million in
U.S. aid. Last week, President Obama pledged an additional $70
million to help Israel bolster the Iron Dome system, which is
designed to shoot down short-range rockets from Gaza and Lebanon.
Panetta called the system a “game changer” for the Israelis and said
it had shot down more than 80 percent of the rockets fired in recent
months at Israeli cities.The anti-rocket system would not be
effective against longer-range Iranian missiles, which can be
countered only with more sophisticated theater missile-defense
A unilateral Israeli strike on the Iranian program would be likely to
trigger large reprisal strikes by Iran against Israel and U.S.
targets in the Middle East. There would be intense pressure on the
Obama administration to provide for Israel’s defense.
Panetta’s quick tour of the Iron Dome system was designed to
highlight the close partnership between Israel and the United States.
“This is the strongest alliance that we have . . . and we will
continue to strengthen the military relationship,” Panetta said.
While touring the Iron Dome with Panetta, Barak was asked whether
Israeli and the U.S. clocks were “ticking at different speeds” when
it came to Iran.
Barak responded:“That’s correct, this is a well-known fact. . . . We
all understand the same intelligence, we all use the same language,
and still it’s true that there are certain differences. America, even
when it thinks differently than us, understands that the state of
Israel and the government of Israel are those who ultimately have to
make the decisions in matters that are vital to the security of the
country.” Joel Greenberg in Jerusalem contributed to this report (©
2010 The Washington Post Company 08/02/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY