Panetta Goes to Middle East as Iran Dominates Israel Talk [View all]
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta heads today to the Middle East where tensions are rising over the democratic transition in Egypt, turmoil in Syria and Iranís suspected advances toward nuclear weapons.
His trip to Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan has a security agenda, including new concerns about Syrian chemical weapons, along with election-season political stakes. Panetta is scheduled to arrive in Israel on the heels of a visit by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has appealed to Jewish voters by attacking President Barack Obama as lacking sufficient commitment to Israelís security.
One public source of tension between the Obama administration and Israeli leaders involves the urgency of military strikes against Iranís nuclear sites. While the U.S. and Israel both say they suspect Iran is covertly seeking nuclear-weapons capabilities through uranium enrichment and other activities, the two allies have disagreed openly about how much time to give economic sanctions and negotiations to persuade Iran to give up much its nuclear program.
With a lack of progress in the negotiations, ďthe clocks in Washington and Tel Aviv are out of syncĒ on the timing for military action, said David Makovsky, a Middle East specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The Obama administrationís strategy is to see if Iran backs down as international sanctions increasingly hurt its economy, saying there is time for military action as a last alternative.