US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was in Israel this week to offer reassurances that the Obama Administration will not allow Iran to build nuclear weapons, amid growing speculation that Israel may soon launch a preemptive strike against the Islamic Republic's defiant nuclear program.
"We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period," Panetta told reporters in Jerusalem after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday. "We will not allow them to develop a nuclear weapon, and we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen."
Panetta's remarks, both public and behind closed doors, were seen as an effort to dissuade Israel from taking action against Iran on its own prior to the US presidential election. There has been much talk in Israel of late that an attack on Iran's nuclear program must come before the American vote in November, in order to force Obama's support, not to mention the fact that Israeli experts believe Iran will very soon have all it needs to build a handful of nuclear bombs.
A day later, Michele Flournoy, former US undersecretary for defence policy, reaffirmed Panetta's message, telling The Jerusalem Post that President Obama "means what he says" and is dedicated to preventing Iran from fielding a nuclear weapon.
But Israel fears that is not enough, and that Iran must be prevented from even developing the capability to build nuclear weapons, either now or in the future.
"Neither sanctions nor diplomacy have yet had any impact on Iran’s nuclear weapons program," Netanyahu said, further noting that even promises of American military action should all else fail "have also not yet convinced the Iranians to stop their program."
Netanyahu concluded: "Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program. This must change and it must change quickly, because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out."
Reading between the lines, it becomes increasingly clear that the US administration is dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue by focusing almost solely on the present day threat (which admittedly isn't all that severe at this point), while Israel is looking at the long-term ramifications of Iran gaining nuclear weapons capabilities (which go far beyond the simple threat of attack).
As things stand now, experts believe that if America takes military action against Iran, it won't do so until 12-18 months from now. Meanwhile, commenting on the possibility of an early strike by Israel, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy told The New York Times that "if I were Iranian, I would be very fearful about the next 12 weeks."