Panetta: US attack on Iran would be more effective

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reviews an honor guard at Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv in October, escorted by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. (Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—The United States has numerous military options for halting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons if diplomatic efforts and sanctions fail, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told National Journal in an interview on Thursday.

Panetta told the US paper the US administration does not think Israel has decided on a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, noting that President Barack Obama has urged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to give the increasingly stringent international sanctions time to take effect.

“As the president himself has said, I don’t believe they’ve made a final decision here,” Panetta told NJ. “I feel confident that they really are seriously weighing all of the ramifications of how best to deal with Iran.”

Panetta said in the interview that a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran would be less effective than one conducted by the US, which has a much larger air force and more powerful weapons than any possessed by the Jewish state.

While neither an American nor an Israeli strike appears imminent, both Panetta and Obama have repeatedly said that “all options are on the table” when it comes to ending Iran’s race to develop nuclear weapons.

“If [Israel] decided to do it, there’s no question that it would have an impact, but I think it’s also clear that if the United States did it we would have a hell of a bigger impact,” Panetta said in the interview.

In Israel, Maariv reported earlier this week, based on Western sources, that the US has agreed to supply it with advanced ordnance on condition that Israel delays an attack on Iran at least until after the US elections.

Such ordnance is likely to include the latest development in US bunker-busting technology: the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), also known as the GBU-57A/B. This huge, precision-guided, 30,000-pound bunker-buster bomb is six times heavier than its deepest penetrating predecessor, the 5,000-pound GBU-28 and GBU-37—which the US has previously supplied Israel.

Panetta’s comments came one day after he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the US is reviewing “possible military options” for an armed intervention in Syria. Asked by National Journal whether the Pentagon is conducting similar planning for strikes on Iran, he didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely,” Panetta said.

He echoed Obama’s statement earlier in the week before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington that a nuclear Iran would pose a threat not just to Israel, but to the US.

“I think [the Israelis] are serious about the threat that they view from Iran and its impact on Israel,” Panetta said in the interview. “I think they also understand that we view Iran as a threat to our security as well.”

As Obama told the conference, “Let me be clear—we do not have a policy of containment. “We have a policy of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Panetta pointed out to AIPAC that the new US budget requests $3.1billion in security assistance to Israel, up from the $2.5 billion provided in 2008. He also noted that the administration had committed more than $650 million in funding for Israeli missile defense, double the Bush administration’s pledge of $320 million over the same period.

The bottom line, Panetta told the AIPAC conference, is that America will attack Iran as a last resort if diplomacy fails to halt its nuclear program. If all else fails, the US will “act against Iran,” Panetta said, pulling no punches. “Military action is the last alternative when all else fails,” he said. “But make no mistake: We will act if we have to.”