Sanctions take too much time and Israel will decide for itself how to handle Iran's nuclear program – this is the message Defense Minister Ehud Barak conveyed to his American counterpart Leon Panetta on Wednesday.
Barak greeted Panetta at a special reception at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv and later accompanied the US official on a tour of the Iron Dome battery in Ashkelon. Barak stressed that the Israeli government alone will decide on Israel's security issues.
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He explained that while sanctions and diplomacy have their impact, they are unlikely to propel Iran's ayatollahs regime to abandon its nuclear program. Barak added that sanctions and diplomacy take time which allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium, approaching the atomic weapon level.
Panetta, on his part, expressed his commitment to Israel's security. He said that the US shares Israel's struggle for peace in the region and security for Israelis, and that this partnership is more important than ever.
"We are a friend, we are a partner, we have, as the defense minister has pointed out, probably the strongest US-Israel defense relationship that we have had in history. What we are doing, working together, is an indication not only of our friendship but of our alliance to work together to try to preserve peace in the future," he said.
He said that the international community must remain united in order to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear. Addressing the overall effect of economic sanctions, Panetta said that the US will continue to put maximum pressure on Tehran and stressed there were still other "broader" options, including military ones, if diplomacy fails.
Barak and Panetta with soldiers at Iron Dome battery (Photo: Avi Rokach)
The US defense secretary said that Washington is committed to Israel, not just with words but with actions, the Iron Dome being an example. He added that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told him that the Iron Dome does not start wars, it stops them.
Panetta promised that the US will continue to help Israel fund defense systems and will seek further funding for the Iron Dome based on an annual assessment of Israel's security needs.
Panetta and Barak (Photo: Ariel Hermoni, Defense Ministry)
Commenting on the Iranian issue, Barak said that Israel and the US are monitoring the situation and that while there are disagreements from time to time, the bilateral relations remain strong and will continue to deepen. He stressed that disagreements will not alter the relations between the nations.
Addressing a possible strike in Iran, Panetta said he does not wish to speculate and that Israel will decide what is best for its security.
Finally, asked about Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, he said that it is a matter of the White House.
Earlier on Wednesday, Leon Panetta was greeted by Barak on Wednesday at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv where an honor guard launched a special reception for the US official.
Barak told reporters that Israel and the US share a great deal in common in their perception of reality and that "there is much to discuss as there are great and many problems."
Panetta's visit created severe traffic jams across Israel as organizers decided to use a convoy to transport him to and from meetings instead of the customary helicopter.
Panetta landed in Israel on Tuesday after visiting Tunisia and Egypt. He is scheduled to meet President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later on Wednesday. On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama imposed fresh sanctions on Iran.
On Monday, the US defense secretary acknowledged that increasingly stiff sanctions have yet to compel Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. But he argued that more pressure eventually would lead Iran to "do what's right."
Yoav Zitun contributed to this report
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