“We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Period,” Panetta said after his meeting with Netanyahu. “And we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen.” In his appearance with the Israeli defense minister, Panetta said that it is his responsibility to “provide the president with a full range of options, including military options, should diplomacy fail.”
Unlike the U.S. military, the Israel Defense Forces do not have tankers capable of refueling warplanes in flight, nor is Israel’s arsenal of bunker-busting bombs thought to be as effective as that of the United States at taking out deeply buried targets. Those shortcomings could limit the effectiveness of any unilateral action by the Israelis against the Iranian nuclear program.
Panetta spent the morning touring the anti-rocket battery, developed by the Israelis with U.S. assistance and more than $200 million in U.S. aid. Last week, President Obama pledged an additional $70 million to help Israel bolster the Iron Dome system, which is designed to shoot down short-range rockets from Gaza and Lebanon. Panetta called the system a “game changer” for the Israelis and said it had shot down more than 80 percent of the rockets fired in recent months at Israeli cities.The anti-rocket system would not be effective against longer-range Iranian missiles, which can be countered only with more sophisticated theater missile-defense systems.
A unilateral Israeli strike on the Iranian program would be likely to trigger large reprisal strikes by Iran against Israel and U.S. targets in the Middle East. There would be intense pressure on the Obama administration to provide for Israel’s defense.
Panetta’s quick tour of the Iron Dome system was designed to highlight the close partnership between Israel and the United States.
“This is the strongest alliance that we have . . . and we will continue to strengthen the military relationship,” Panetta said.
While touring the Iron Dome with Panetta, Barak was asked whether Israeli and the U.S. clocks were “ticking at different speeds” when it came to Iran.
Barak responded:“That’s correct, this is a well-known fact. . . . We all understand the same intelligence, we all use the same language, and still it’s true that there are certain differences. America, even when it thinks differently than us, understands that the state of Israel and the government of Israel are those who ultimately have to make the decisions in matters that are vital to the security of the country.”
Joel Greenberg in Jerusalem contributed to this report.