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December 5, 2011

Panetta: “Israel Will Always Have the Unshakeable Backing of the United States”

Listed in: Israel, Other Foreign Policy, Fact Sheets, NJDC News

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta emphasized the Obama Administration’s commitment to Israel’s peace and security during his recent address to the Saban Center in Washington, DC. Panetta declared that “Israel will always have the unshakeable backing of the United States” and listed just some of the steps taken by President Barack Obama to bolster Israel’s security in the rapidly-changing Middle East.

This fact sheet can be downloaded as a pdf here

Excerpts from his address appear below and the full transcript of Panetta’s remarks can be read here. The full video of Panetta’s appearance can be viewed here or below.

Panetta affirmed that the Obama Administration will continue to stand with Israel as the Middle East continues to evolve:

* ... In this time of understandable anxiety, I would like to underscore one thing that has stayed constant over the past three years of this administration: The determination of the United States to safeguard Israel’s security.And that commitment will not change. I want to be clear that Israel can count on three enduring pillars in U.S. policy in the region, all of which contribute directly to the safety and prosperity of the Israeli people.

* First, our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. Second, our broader commitment to regional stability. And third, our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. These are not merely rhetorical assurances. These are firm principles—principles that are backed up by tangible action, a commitment of resources, and demonstrable resolve.

He explained some of the steps taken by the Obama Administration to bolster Israel’s security:

* ... This administration has pursued and achieved unprecedented levels of defense cooperation with Israel to back up our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. Next year, the U.S. armed forces and the IDF will conduct the largest joint exercises in the history of that partnership, enhancing the ability of our militaries to operate together and also testing our new ballistic missile and rocket defense capabilities. Those new capabilities are themselves a product of this unprecedented defense cooperation.

* We are especially proud that above and beyond the annual foreign military financing that we provide to Israel, the Obama administration has provided more than $200 million for the Iron Dome rocket defense system—support that recently enabled the fielding of a third battery. This system—this system has already saved the lives of Israeli civilians facing rocket barrages from Gaza.

* Our work together on these defense capabilities represents only one part of our core commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge—an advantage that we are determined to expand even further as we continue to enhance our defense cooperation.

* As just one example, the United States will ensure that Israel continues to enjoy unquestioned air superiority by delivering to Israel the advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Panetta stressed that all options remain on the table for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran:

* No greater threat exists to the security and prosperity of the Middle East than a nuclear-armed Iran. And that’s why the third pillar of our approach to this region—this critical region is our determination to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and more broadly to deter its destabilizing activities, particularly those that could threaten the free flow of commerce throughout this vital region. That is a redline for the United States….

* Iran must ultimately realize that its quest for nuclear weapons will make it less, not more, secure. These efforts are increasing Tehran’s isolation and I continue to believe that pressure—economic pressure, diplomatic pressure - and strengthened collective defenses are the right approach. Still, it is my department’s responsibility to plan for all contingencies and to provide the president with a wide range of military options should they become necessary. That is a responsibility I take very seriously because when it comes to the threat posed by Iran, the president has made it very clear that we have not taken any options off the table….

* We have to approach this—as the President said, with all options on the table. But at this point we believe that the combination of economic and diplomatic sanctions that have been placed upon Iran have had a serious impact….

* The common goal is an Iran that does not develop a nuclear weapon. And working together, working with Israel, working with our allies in the region, working with the international community to continue to isolate, to continue to put pressure on, is an effort that we must continue. That’s the best way to put pressure on them….

* We always—as Prime Minister Netanyahu said, force should be only a last resort, and if that is truly the case, then I believe it is incumbent on us to implement all of our diplomatic and economic pressure as possible to try to continue this effort to make clear to the world that we are dealing with an international pariah in Iran.

He declared that the United States will unequivocally support Israel in its pursuit of peace:

* I recognize that there is a view that this is not the time to pursue peace and that the Arab awakening further imperils the dream of a safe and secure, Jewish and democratic Israel.But I disagree with that view. I believe Israel will ultimately be safer when other Middle Eastern states adopt governments that respond to their people, promote equal rights, promote free and fair elections, uphold their international commitments, and join the community of free and democratic nations.

* I believe it is the only real long-term path to security and prosperity and to realize the vision of Yitzhak Rabin for a sustainable peace in the Middle East. Peace requires some difficult steps. And, yes, it will involve risks. But my Italian father used to say that you cannot achieve anything worthwhile without taking risks. All Israelis should know that the United States will always stand behind their country, providing a secure safety net as it takes those necessary risks….

* To secure that peace, Israel will always have the unshakable backing of the United States.And the United States must always have the unshakable trust of Israel. That bond—that bond is the fundamental key to stability and hope in the Middle East, and it is a bond that must never be broken.

* ... We all know what the pieces are here for a potential agreement. We’ve talked it out, worked through, we understand the concerns, we understand the concerns of Israel, understand the concerns of the Palestinians. If they sit at a table and work through those concerns, and the United States can be of assistance in that process, then I think you have the beginning of what could be a process that would lead to a peace agreement.

He reiterated that Obama stands firmly opposed to efforts to delegitimize Israel—especially through the United Nations:

* ... Unfortunately, over the past year we have seen Israel’s isolation from its traditional security partners in the region grow, and the pursuit of a comprehensive Middle East peace has effectively been put on hold.I want to be clear: This isolation is due to a number of factors. Indeed, there is an international campaign underway to isolate Israel. President Obama has stood steadfastly in the way of that effort, especially in the United Nations.

Panetta expressed opposition to cutting foreign aid and other essential programs:

* I’m also concerned about what it does on the domestic side of the question. National security is not just dependent on military power. It’s dependent on diplomatic power.It’s dependent on the State Department being able to provide foreign aid, being able to work with countries, being able to provide development money, being able to provide education money. It’s also dependent, frankly, on the quality of life in this country—to educate our kids, to provide health care. All of that is part of our national security. And it’s for that reason that I think it’s essential that the leadership of the country find the solutions to dealing with the deficit without having America have to pay a price that it will regret in the future.