Israel appears to be approaching the brink of a direct military strike on Iran, forcing the Obama administration to step in and mediate the growing tensions between the two countries.
A number of public statements and private communications by Israeli leaders have raised a red flag, suggesting that the country might be prepared to attack Iran come fall. U.S. officials have made an immediate effort to reach out to Israel, including a visit from Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on Wednesday. Panetta is in the midst of a five-day tour of the region, which also will bring him to Syria.
Officials from the Obama administration say they remain hopeful that Israel has no plans for an imminent attack, and that Israel would allow the United States to determine the course of action if military force is needed. As of now, U.S. officials have said that a strike against Iran would not come until next year at the earliest.
Panetta met with Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak for the latest in a series of negotiations between the two countries. Panetta declared that the United States would back Israel if Iran developed a nuclear weapon.
“We have options that we are prepared to implement to ensure that that does not happen,” Panetta said, alongside Barak. “My responsibility is to provide the president with a full range of options, including military options, should diplomacy fail.”
Other recent visitors to Israel have included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon, and even Mitt Romney. The former two met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has remained stern in his condemnation of Iran’s nuclear program.
“Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program,” Netanyahu said on Wednesday. “This must change and it must change quickly because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.”
While American officials are not as aggressive in their criticism of Iran, they have maintained that if absolutely necessary, military force will be used to disarm the country. Netanyahu has argued that the continued implementation of sanctions has been ineffective so far, but the Obama administration seems poised to stay the course. “We have to exhaust every option, every effort, before we resort to military action,” Panetta said.