Washington, August 1 – U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Wednesday issued a strong warning to Iran that the United States would use military force if necessary to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.
Panetta, who was visiting Israel, made his remarks outside the city of Ashkelon which has often faced missile attack from Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, with an “Iron Dome” anti-rocket defense system as a backdrop.
Panetta said several times that “all options,” including military force, are on the table to stop Iran, should sanctions and diplomacy — the preferred means of persuasion — ultimately fail.
“If they continue and if they proceed with a nuclear weapon, … we have options that we are prepared to implement to ensure that that does not happen,” the Pentagon chief said.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, standing beside Panetta, said he sees an “extremely low” probability that sanctions will ever compel Iran to give up its nuclear activities.
The White House announced new sanctions on Tuesday and Congress is expected to enact new measures before the end of this week. On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said the purpose of additional sanctions was to "affect Iran's calculus" to get Tehran to negotiate seriously over its disputed nuclear program.
The sanctions targeted Iranian energy and petrochemical sectors in an effort to prevent the establishment of payment mechanisms that would allow the circumvention of existing sanctions.
The United States will continue to "look for ways to increase the impact" of sanctions on Iran, Rhodes said. "It's only going to get worse for the Iranian government," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli Channel 2 TV on Tuesday he had not decided on military action against Iran.
“I haven’t decided yet whether to attack,” Netanyahu said. “However, I see the commitment of this regime of ayatollahs to develop nuclear bombs that are meant to destroy us, and I won’t let that happen.”
“I see an ayatollah regime that declares what it has championed: to destroy us,” Netanyahu said. “It’s working to destroy us, it’s preparing nuclear weapons to destroy us. … If it is up to me, I won’t let that happen.”
With “matters that have to do with our destiny, with our very existence, we do not put our faith in the hands of others, even our best of friends,” Netanyahu said.
Before meeting Panetta, Netanyahu said time was running out to resolve the Iran crisis peacefully.
Panetta acknowledged Monday that international sanctions have not pressured Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions. But the Obama administration thinks tougher sanctions eventually will compel Iran to submit.