WASHINGTON – US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke before the AIPAC conference on Tuesday and vowed that the United States would take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon if diplomacy fails.
"We want diplomacy to work, we will back the diplomacy with strong and increasing pressure, we will keep all options – including military action – on the table to prevent (Iran) from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Panetta told the pro-Israel lobbying group. "Military action is the last alternative when all else fails, but make no mistake, we will act if we have to."
- Romney, Santorum vow to fight Iran's nuclear ambitions
Netanyahu : A nuclear Iran must be stopped
Israeli state officials disappointed with Obama meeting
"No greater threat exists to the security of Israel and to the entire region – and indeed the United States – than a nuclear armed Iran," he added.
Panetta thus echoed the statement made by US President Barack Obama in his AIPAC speech on Sunday, where he declared that the United States will not hesitate to use force against Iran.
The US' commitment to Israel's security and the strong relationship between the two countries "is one that is shared by the president, by me as secretary of defense, and by my entire military and civilian leadership at the Department of Defense," Panetta said.
Panetta at AIPAC (Photo: Reuters)
"During my tenure as director of the CIA," he continued," I consulted regularly with my counterparts in the Mossad, directors Meir Dagan, Tamir Pardo, and I saw the benefits that came from close intelligence relationship between our governments at the very highest levels.
"In my current job as secretary of defense, I've been reunited with my dear old friend and counterpart Ehud Barak. Ehud and I talk frequently… I also met (Monday) with my friend Prime Minister Netanyahu.
"From… my frequent meetings with Israeli leaders, I am acutely aware of the dangers that confront Israel and the significance of our defense relationship. As a consequence, the level of cooperation and interaction between our militaries and our intelligence agencies is deeper and stronger and broader than at any other time in my experience in government," he said.
'US commitment to defeat any adversary, anywhere'
"And let me assure you that the security bonds between Israel and the United States will only grow as America goes through an historic turning point after a decade of war. Even in the face of budget reductions imposed by the Congress, the defense strategy that we have designed at the Department of Defense for the future makes very clear our commitment to confront and defeat any adversary, any time, anywhere."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed AIPAC on Tuesday. Stressing the importance of curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions, he said: "A nuclear-armed Iran is likely to spark an arms race in the Middle East, he continued, "And the worst nightmare – a nuclear-armed Iran could threaten all of us with nuclear terrorism.
"President Obama stated clearly that the US wants to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons and that… all options are on the table. Israel has the same policy – we're determined to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons and we leave all options on the table."
Obama and Netanyahu met on Monday and despite the overall favorable tone, Jerusalem officials said they were disappointed by Washington's lack of resolve.
"We want the Americans to change their rhetoric vis-à-vis the Iranians. The US says that when Khamenei decides to make a bomb that would be crossing a red line. How do we know for sure he's made the decision? What happens after that? There will be a new discussion on whether this is credible or not."
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop