US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta yesterday urged that diplomacy and economic pressure be given more time to work, in comments interpreted as a tacit message to Israeli leaders.
Speaking in Tunis yesterday, Panetta said that economic sanctions against Iran were increasingly effective, although he acknowledged that they might not seem so. Panetta’s words are at odds with those of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Sunday said that sanctions had not set back Iran’s nuclear programme “one iota.”
Panetta will arrive in Israel this evening and will meet with Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Defence Minister Ehud Barak. Panetta is the latest in a string of Obama administration officials to visit Israel in the last three weeks. Prime among them have been Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Tom Donilon, the national security adviser; and John Brennan, the counterterrorism chief.
According to Shimon Shiffer, writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Panetta during his trip will reassure Israeli leaders of US determination to stop Iran by all means necessary, whilst also making it clear that unilateral action by Israel would cross a line the US would not tolerate. According to Shiffer, US President Barack Obama’s position, which is known to both Netanyahu and Barak, is that we are 18 months from when Iran can cross its critical nuclear threshold, and at that point the US will use its full might, but is unwilling to do so before.
US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro reiterated the US position in an interview with Israel Radio, saying there was still time regarding the Iranian nuclear threat, although time is running out, and that is why Washington was preparing alternatives, among them the military option, in case negotiations failed. The ambassador added that the US and Israel were coordinated on the matter of Iranian nuclear weapons and were working in full cooperation against a common threat.