Tue, Oct 04, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Israel ‘increasingly isolated’: Panetta

MAKING FRIENDS:Panetta said the US would help Israel to improve its relations with countries like Turkey and Egypt, a move it deemed necessary for regional security

AFP, Tel aviv, Israel

The Arab spring has left Israel “increasingly isolated,” US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said yesterday as he arrived in Tel Aviv, warning that military might could not make up for a weakened diplomatic position.

Speaking to reporters aboard his plane before landing in Israel as part of a Middle East tour, Panetta said it was key for Israel to shore up its relations with Egypt and other countries in the region that had proved valuable partners in the past.

“There’s not much question in my mind that they maintain that [military] edge, but the question you have to ask is it enough to maintain a military edge, if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena?” Panetta said.

“At this dramatic time in the Middle East, when there have been so many changes, it’s not a good situation for Israel to become increasingly isolated and that is what’s happening,” he said.

Panetta, who was scheduled to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders yesterday before heading to Egypt and a NATO session in Brussels this week, said Israel needed to repair diplomatic ties with countries such as Egypt and Turkey and that Washington was ready to help.

“I think for the security of that region, it’s really important that we do everything possible to try help them reestablish relations with countries like Turkey and with Egypt,” Panetta said.

With the end of the rule of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and popular unrest elsewhere casting doubt on the premises underlying Israel’s security, Panetta said Israeli leaders were fully aware of the difficult challenge they faced.

“I think they recognize that it’s important to try to do whatever they can to try to improve those relations,” he said.

A spokesman for Panetta, George Little, said the Pentagon chief viewed Israel’s isolation as the product of its own actions as well as events outside of its control, including Iran’s support for militants hostile to Israel.

In his talks with Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and other Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Panetta said he would be urging both sides to return to the negotiating table.

“My main message is to both sides, you don’t lose anything, you don’t lose anything by going into negotiations,” he said.

Panetta repeated the position of US President Barack Obama’s administration’s that the Palestinians should pursue their goal of statehood through peace talks and not through a UN resolution.

“One thing that’s been made clear, it’s been made clear by the [US] president, it’s been made clear by the secretary of state, is that you’re not going to achieve Middle East peace by trying to slam dunk it in the UN. The only way you’re going to achieve it is by negotiations,” he said.

Panetta’s visit comes amid concern in Washington that the Palestinians’ push for UN recognition could raise popular expectations that will end in disappointment and potential violence, following an expected veto of the move by the US.

Panetta will be appealing to Palestinian leaders to try to contain any possible violence, a senior defense official said.

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