"Iran is the foremost sponsor of terrorism, and everything must be done to keep Iran,
the world’s most dangerous regime, from developing the world’s most dangerous weapons,"
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
told visiting US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
During the meeting in Jerusalem,
premier said the US's strong bi-partisan message of support for Israel is "deeply appreciated" at a time of "great instability in our region."
"Today we’ll have the opportunity to discuss the many challenges facing our region and no challenge is greater than stopping Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability," the PM told Panetta.
"You recently said that sanctions
on Iran are having a big impact on the Iranian economy and that is correct. And I’m sure that the recent sanctions advanced by the President and the Congress will have an even greater impact on Iran’s economy.
"But unfortunately, it’s also true that neither sanctions nor diplomacy have yet had any impact on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. America and Israel have also made clear that all options are on the table.
"You yourself said a few months ago that when all else fails, America will act. But these declarations have also not yet convinced the Iranians to stop their program. However forceful our statements, they have not convinced Iran that we are serious about stopping them," Netanyahu said during the meeting.
Netanyahu and Panetta (Photo: Amit Shabi)
"Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program. This must change and it must change quickly, because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out," the PM argued.
Panetta, for his part, reiterated that the United States stand by Israel and is committed to its security, and that "all options," including military force, are possible. "We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period," he stressed.
Later, Panetta met President Shimon Peres,
who said he favors a peaceful resolution to the nuclear crisis but stressed that Iran must be made aware that a military option
Netanyahu and Romney in Jerusalem (Photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO)
The US defense secretary assured Peres that the US would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
Earlier Wednesday, at an Israeli defense site south of Tel Aviv,
Panetta stood beside Defense Minister Ehud Barak
to declare that the Obama administration is serious about the possibility of eventually resorting to military force against Iran. But he said all non-military measures must be exhausted first.
Barak sounded as unconvinced as the prime minister, saying he appreciated US support but added that the probability of international sanctions ever compelling Iran to give up its nuclear program is "extremely low."
Netanyahu's and Barack's statements, taken together, dramatized the growing strains in US-Israeli relations over what strategy to pursue with Iran.
Tehran has said repeatedly that its nuclear work is for civilian energy uses only, but suspicions that the Islamic republic will use enriched uranium for nuclear weapons have resulted in international sanctions and saber-rattling from Israel, which perceives a nuclear Iran as an existential threat. The United States has discouraged Israel from a unilateral, pre-emptive military strike on Iran.
The Panetta visit to Israel comes just days after US Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney
met with top Israeli officials about Iran and other issues and said that if he becomes president, he will "honor" whatever Israel decides to do about Iran's nuclear capabilities. Romney has accused the Obama administration of being too soft on Iran and of not providing sufficient support to Israel.
Netanyahu told Israeli Channel 2 TV on Tuesday that despite reservations about an Iranian attack among former Israeli security officials and Israel's current army chief, the country's political leadership would make the final decision on any attack.
"I see an ayatollah regime that declares what it has championed: to destroy us," Netanyahu said. "It's working to destroy us, it's preparing nuclear weapons to destroy us. ... If it is up to me, I won't let that happen."
With "matters that have to do with our destiny, with our very existence, we do not put our faith in the hands of others, even our best of friends," Netanyahu said, hinting that Israel might act alone despite American misgivings.
Netanyahu said both Romney and Obama have said "Israel has the right to defend itself."
AP contributed to this report