Panetta: Political Shifts Offer Challenges, Opportunities
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
TEL AVIV, Israel, Oct. 3, 2011 The people of Israel can be confident in America’s enduring commitment to their freedom and security, especially during this time of dramatic change in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
Israeli Defense Ministry Director Gen. Ehud Shani, left, greets Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 3, 2011. DOD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
On the first day of his first trip as defense secretary to meet with key allies in the Middle East and to visit NATO headquarters in Brussels, Panetta and Defense Minister Ehud Barak held a joint news conference in the circular, glass-walled lobby of the Kyria, the central command base of Israeli Defense Forces.
“The political shifts taking place in this region present both challenges and opportunities to Israel and the United States,” Panetta told an international group of reporters in the sunlit room, “but make no mistake, we will face these challenges together as allies.”
After the news conference, Panetta met with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, at his office in Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the central West Bank.
Later in the afternoon, the secretary and his delegation visited the Jerusalem office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for more discussions, then laid a wreath nearby at the Holocaust History Museum, called Yad Vesham.
During a productive set of morning discussions with Barak, Panetta said, he reaffirmed “the unshakeable commitment of the United States to the security of Israel.”
“Thank you, the [Obama] administration and the American people for the continued support and backing of Israel security in this tough neighborhood,” Barak, an old friend of Panetta, told the secretary.
“And,” he added, “for the unwavering support of our qualitative military edge and the supply of the main platforms with which we protect and defend our state.”
During their discussions, the defense leaders addressed Iran’s nuclear program, the security environment on Israel’s borders, including Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, and the region’s shifting security landscape and implications for the future.
“There’s no doubt that we face a number of very vexing security challenges,” the secretary said. “This is a dangerous region of the world.”
Such challenges include violent extremism, terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear technologies and threats posed by adversarial states.
“I’m encouraged that the United States and Israel have a closer defense relationship today than ever in history,” Panetta said, adding that U.S.-Israel cooperation is deepening in areas such as missile defense technology, counterterrorism and joint military exercises.
The relationship “is yielding tangible benefits,” Panetta said, “and it’s helping to save lives.”
An example of cooperation, the secretary added, involves the first U.S.-funded battery of Iron Dome rocket interceptors that Israel recently fielded. Iron Dome is a mobile air defense system for short-range rockets and artillery shells that Israel began using this year. The system, Panetta said, “has been effective at countering rockets that are being fired at Israeli civilians.”
Also on this visit, the secretary has strongly urged Israel and the Palestinians to continue working toward a negotiated two-state solution to their long-standing border dispute.
“I want to emphasize that there is a need and an opportunity for bold action on both sides to move toward a negotiated two-state solution,” Panetta said.
“There is no alternative to negotiation,” he added, “but that does not mean that negotiation should be the last alternative. It should be something that the parties turn to now to deal with [these] issues.”
The secretary said that as the parties move forward, the United States stands ready to support them.