The meetings Panetta held with top Israeli politicians and security officials had one goal: Convincing Jerusalem not to launch a unilateral strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
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As part of this effort, Panetta assured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak that the US would act when it becomes clear that military intervention is unavoidable – but certainly not before the November elections in the US.
During his visit, Panetta echoed President Barack Obama's position that for now the international community should focus on curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions through harsh sanctions rather than considering a military strike.
The US defense secretary was backed by President Shimon Peres, who is the senior-most member of a group of politicians and security officials who are against an Israeli strike in Iran, particularly if it is not coordinated with the US.
Israeli officials said Panetta mad it clear during his meetings that the Obama administration would prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities by any means necessary. However, as far as the US is concerned, an attack at this juncture would be premature.
'Give sanctions time.' Netanyahu (L) and Panetta (Photo: Amit Shabi)
"Despite what some may think, this wasn't a historic visit," an Israeli official who is familiar with the talks told Ynet. "The relations between the US and Israeli armies are excellent – better than ever – and the Obama administration wants to accentuate this. Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Israel for a reason. Anyone can see the connection. As for the Iranian issue, the consultations are ongoing, but we did not need this visit to conduct serious talks on the matter."
The US has already devised a plan of attack in the event that the sanctions prove to be insufficient to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Netanyahu and Barak are asking the Obama administration to issue clearer statements regarding the military option in order to add pressure on the regime in Tehran. The Israeli premier claims Iran will continue moving its nuclear program forward as long as it does not believe the threat of an American attack is credible.
Obama's reasons for issuing "soft" statements regarding Iran are mostly political: Aggressive statements indicating the possibility of war would be detrimental to the president's campaign to get re-elected.
The White House on Wednesday insisted sanctions against Iran were having a "significant" impact after Netanyahu said they had not set back Tehran's nuclear plans.
President Barack Obama's spokesperson Jay Carney said Iran had "yet to make the choice it needs to make, which is to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions."
"We completely agree with the prime minister's assessment that Iran has failed to make that choice and that is absolutely a disappointment," Carney said, aboard Air Force One.
He added however that sanctions were having "a significant effect on the Iranian economy."
"They have not yet had their desired effect. Of course. If the sanctions had forced Iran to make the decision to live up to their international obligations, Iran would have made the choice that would have allowed them to rejoin the community of nations and obtain some relief from the sanctions. The purpose of the sanctions is to change Iranian behavior. That change has not yet come. But that does not mean the sanctions have not had an impact," Carney said.
AFP, Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to the report
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