But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta threw cold water on the idea of an Israeli military strike on Iran during a trip to Israel yesterday. At a joint press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Panetta signaled that the U.S. didn’t want to see a surprise strike by Israel: “I think the most effective way to deal with Iran is not on a unilateral basis,” he said in response to a question. Panetta went on to say that, like Israel, the U.S. sees the Iranian nuclear program as a priority, but that countries should work “together” to address it:
We are very concerned [about Iran] and the best approach for dealing with this threat is for all of us to make it clear to them that they cannot proceed on the path that they are on. We will work together to do whatever is necessary to make sure that they do not represent a threat to this region and it depends on countries working together.
The combination of Panetta’s warning that Israel is “growingly isolated” and his calls for Israel to “work together” were understood within the government as carrying an underlying message that since Israel can only really rely on the US, it will not be able to surprise it with unilateral military action against Iran.
Panetta’s thinly-veiled message came on the same day that the former head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency Meir Dagan — echoing comments from May that attacking Iran was “the stupidest thing [he’s] ever heard” — said that Iran was not close to having a nuclear bomb and a military attack was “far from being Israel’s preferred option.”