Panetta Warns Israel Off Taking Unilateral Military Action Against Iran

Reposted by arrangement with Think Progress

When news broke two weeks ago that the U.S. had sent bunker buster bombs to Israel in 2009 or 2010, many worried that shipping the bombs — which can penetrate deep into underground bunkers like those that protect the Iranian nuclear program — might be perceived by Israel or Iran as a U.S. “green light” for an Israeli attack on the Islamic Republic. Retired General James Cartwright said that the military had worried about “how the Iranians would perceive it,” and “how the Israelis might perceive it.” And according to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, U.S. and Israeli military and diplomatic officials meeting in Israel in late 2009 agreed that “the transfer should be handled quietly to avoid any allegations that the [U.S. government] is helping Israel prepare for a strike against Iran.”

But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta threw cold water on the idea of an Israeli military strike on Iran during a trip to Israel yesterday. At a joint press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Panetta signaled that the U.S. didn’t want to see a surprise strike by Israel: “I think the most effective way to deal with Iran is not on a unilateral basis,” he said in response to a question. Panetta went on to say that, like Israel, the U.S. sees the Iranian nuclear program as a priority, but that countries should work “together” to address it:

We are very concerned [about Iran] and the best approach for dealing with this threat is for all of us to make it clear to them that they cannot proceed on the path that they are on. We will work together to do whatever is necessary to make sure that they do not represent a threat to this region and it depends on countries working together.

The defense correspondent of the Israeli paper Haaretz wrote that Panetta “repeated the word ‘together’ several times in this context.” And the Jerusalem Post added that:

The combination of Panetta’s warning that Israel is “growingly isolated” and his calls for Israel to “work together” were understood within the government as carrying an underlying message that since Israel can only really rely on the US, it will not be able to surprise it with unilateral military action against Iran.

Panetta’s thinly-veiled message came on the same day that the former head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency Meir Dagan — echoing comments from May that attacking Iran was “the stupidest thing [he’s] ever heard” — said that Iran was not close to having a nuclear bomb and a military attack was “far from being Israel’s preferred option.”

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.