Panetta to urge Iran sanctions during Israel visit
United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will arrive in Israel on Wednesday to gauge Israel’s determination to attack Iran and will try to persuade Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to give more time to sanctions and diplomacy.
Panetta will arrive in Israel on Wednesday after brief stopovers in Tunis and Egypt and will be met by an honor guard at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv before sitting down for a work meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He will later meet with Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
It will be Panetta’s second visit to Israel in 10 months and his ninth meeting with Barak.
Defense officials said that talks with Panetta would focus on Iran’s continued nuclear program, the volatile situation in Syria as well as Israel’s ties with Egypt, which he will stop in on Tuesday before arriving in Israel.
Officials said that due to the timing of the visit – just days after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited Jerusalem – Panetta was expected to affirm the US’s commitment to Israel’s security and possibly even announce a new security package.
Shortly before landing in Tunis on Monday, Panetta told reporters that new sanctions were set to be imposed on Iran next week.
"With regards to where Israel is right now, my view is that they have not made any decisions with regards to Iran and that they continue to support the international effort to bring pressure against Iran," Panetta said.
During his visit, Panetta will tour an Iron Dome counter-rocket defense battery and meet with the Israel Air Force soldiers who operate it. The US has provided Israel with $205 million for additional Iron Dome batteries and recently announced the allocation of an additional $70 million.
“We feel that the more we can support them in building that kind of defense system, the more we can send a clear signal to others that Israel is going to be able to defend itself against such attacks,” he said.
Panetta also disregarded Romney’s claim on Sunday that Israeli-US ties were strained and said that there was unprecedented defense cooperation between the two countries.
"I'm proud of the defense partnership that we've built over the past several years. The US-Israel defense relationship, I believe, is stronger today than it has been in the past," he said.
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