US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta highlighted Washington’s strong defense ties with Israel Wednesday morning, ahead of a meeting with counterpart Ehud Barak at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Panetta arrived in Israel Tuesday night as part of a quick diplomatic jaunt across the Middle East. He planned to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres later in the day before moving on to Jordan to finish his tour.
“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,” Panetta told reporters before the meeting. “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.”
Barak thanked Panetta personally for the two countries’ solid relationship.
“The defense ties between Israel and the United States are stronger and tighter than they have ever been and the credit now has to go, most of it, to you, Leon.”
Panetta said his talks would be “more about what is the threat we are confronting” in Iran’s nuclear program and about sharing intelligence information.
Iran says its nuclear work is for civilian energy uses, but suspicion that the Islamic republic will use enriched uranium for nuclear weapons has 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 pre-emptive military strike on Iran, but has said it would keep all options available.
The visit by Panetta and other US officials recently, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month, have been seen as attempts to convince Israel to not launch a unilateral strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“What we are discussing are various contingencies and how we would respond,” Panetta said. Asked whether any such contingencies include plans for potential military action against Iran, he said, “We obviously continue to work on a number of options in that area.”
On Tuesday US President Barack Obama announced tougher sanctions on Iran.
Earlier in the week, it was reported that a secret meeting between Netanyahu and White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon included discussions of the US’s attack plan in case diplomatic efforts and sanctions fail.
Netanyahu’s office denied the report.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu rebuffed claims that top defense officials were opposed to attacking Iran by saying it was the political system’s job to decide and the military’s job to carry out the orders.