Panetta to meet Barak, Netanyahu, Peres in quick trip to Israel

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Israel to discuss United States-Israel defense ties and the potential threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Panetta will meet with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

“We are a friend, we are a partner, we have — as the defense minister has pointed out — probably the strongest US-Israel defense relationship that we have had in history,” Panetta told reporters before the meeting, according to the Associated Press and Times of Israel. “What we are doing, working together, is an indication not only of our friendship but of our alliance to work together to try to preserve peace in the future.”

Panetta did not go into specifics on the Iran discussions, but said that he and Israeli officials would be “discussing various contingencies and how we would respond.”

On Tuesday, President Obama announced tougher sanctions on Iran’s energy sector and banks, according to the AP.

Also on Tuesday, Netanyahu told Israeli Channel 2 News that he had not yet made a decision on whether to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, but urged military and security officials to keep the debate over such a strike out of the public sphere.

Peres: Military option to deal with Iran is nearer

Israeli President Shimon Peres added to a debate raging in Israel over whether to attack Iran, when he said on Friday that a military option to stop the Islamic republic from obtaining nuclear weapons was nearer.

Asked by Channel Two News if “something was bringing us closer to a military option rather than a diplomatic one,” Peres said: “I believe so, I estimate that intelligence services of all these countries are looking at the ticking clock, warning leaders that there is not much time left.

“Iran is nearing atomic weapons and in the time left we must turn to the world’s nations and demand (they) fulfill their promise … which is not merely passing sanctions. What needs to be done must be done and there is a long list of options.”

Israeli media has been rife with speculation this week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working to secure cabinet consensus for an attack on Iranian nuclear installations.

Western powers, including Israel, suspect Tehran of developing nuclear weapons—something Iran denies—and have imposed sanctions in an attempt to curb its program.

Iran, which opposes Israel’s existence, says it is enriching uranium only to power reactors for electricity generation.

Though no direct threats of military action on Iran have been made by Netanyahu, both Israel and the United States have repeatedly hinted at possible use of force, saying all options were on the table.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Louise Ireland

Peres in Paris raps Syria, Iran

Israeli President Shimon Peres criticized Syria and Iran during a visit to Paris.

Peres arrived Monday to discuss the Middle East peace process and the Iranian nuclear threat with French leaders. On Thursday, he and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe will inaugurate a new square near the Seine River, in the central part of the French capital, to be dubbed the Ben Gurion Esplanade.

At the start of a meeting Monday with Prime Minister Francois Fillon, Peres addressed the threats emanating from Syria and Iran.

“Syria continues its doublespeak,” the Israeli leader said. “On the one hand it speaks about peace, and on the other hand it passes sophisticated Scud missiles to Hezbollah that threaten Israel. The transfer of arms from Syria to Hezbollah and Syria’s support of terrorist organizations does not square with its declarations of seeking peace.”

On Iran, Peres said that “As Jews who experienced the Holocaust, the people of Israel cannot remain indifferent to Iran’s desire to develop nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons in the hands of a fascist government like Iran present a tangible threat to global peace. If Hitler had nuclear weapons, we would not sit here today.”

Also Monday, some 200 pro-Palestinian activists and Communist Party members protested against the creation of the new promenade, and called Israel and its first prime minister “assassins.”

Leaders of the anti-Israel activists have been unsuccessful in trying to persuade Delanoe to abandon plans for naming the new square, arguing that it is unfair not to give a similar honor to Palestinian leaders, such as the late Yasser Arafat. They have promised to continue protesting on Thursday.

Delanoe defended the City Council’s 2008 decision to honor Ben Gurion because of his “courage” in pushing for “peace rather than territories,” according to French reports.