Panetta Seeks to Further Strengthen U.S.-Israel Partnership
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, July 29, 2012 The United States recognizes Israel is a sovereign nation and can make its own security decisions, “but at the same time, we have developed a very close partnership with regards to dealing with threats in the region, … and my goal is to strengthen that partnership,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta gives an in-flight press brief while flying to Tunis, Tunisia, July 29, 2012. Panetta is on a five-day trip to the region stopping in Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Panetta spoke to reporters traveling with him to Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan. Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons technology will be a discussion point at all stops.
The United Nations has placed sanctions against Iran, and a new set is due to go into effect next week. “These will be ratcheting up to a whole new level of impact,” Panetta said. “It sends a strong message to [the Iranian leadership] that they can’t continue to do what they are doing.”
Iranian leaders have a responsibility to sit down and engage in a diplomatic effort to resolve these issues, to end their enrichment process, and to abide by international rules, Panetta said.
There is no daylight between the United States and Israel on Iran, the secretary said. “My view is that when I sit down with my counterpart in Israel, we are unified in our view with regards to Iran,” he said. “We’re unified in the position that they should not obtain a nuclear weapon, [and] we’re unified in our position that we have to bring every bit of pressure on them to change their ways.”
The U.S.-Israel partnership already is unprecedented, Panetta said, and it is his job to ensure this partnership grows.
“The more we are working together, the more unified we are in the effort against Iran, the better off we will be in convincing Iran that there is no room here for them to do anything other than to back away from the nuclear program they are engaged in,” he said.
The secretary is scheduled to visit an Israeli Iron Dome anti-missile battery. The United States is providing much of the funding for the program. Panetta said Iron Dome has proven itself and saved lives. “It provide the kind of critical defense that Israel needs in the event that the country faces missiles from some of their enemies in the region,” he said.
Iron Dome defends and protects civilian lives, he stressed. “That’s the kind of emphasis that I think we need to focus on not just now, but in the weeks and months to come,” the secretary said.
The system can provide an effective defense against any enemy in the region, including Hezbollah, from Lebanon and from Iran, Panetta said. “We feel that the more we can support them in building that kind of defense system, the more we can send a clear signal to others that Israel is going to be able to defend itself against such attacks,” he said.
President Barack Obama has said the United States stands with Israel and the rest of the international community to not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Panetta said Israel has not made any decision with regard to Iran, and “they continue to support the international effort to bring pressure against Iran.”