U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday met with his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak, discussing security issues in the Middle East as talks of a potential Israeli strike against Iran rages on.
The meeting took place at the Pentagon, and Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also participated. After the meeting, Pentagon press secretary George Little shed little light on whether Panetta urged Israel not to strike Iran.
"They discussed the U.S.-Israel defense relationship and a range of regional issues including Syria, Iran and the ongoing changes in the Middle East," he said.
Little said this was Panetta's fourth meeting with Barak since taking over the Pentagon, and their regular meetings "provide them the opportunity to coordinate very closely with the Israelis on security issues, and we will continue to do so," adding Panetta " is always pleased to meet with Minister Barak and discuss ways to strengthen the U.S.-Israel defense relationship."
The meeting precedes next week's meeting between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the gap widens between the two countries on how to approach the Iranian nuclear issue.
Israeli officials believed that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons and the window for military attacks were closing, while the United States said there was no evidence that Iran had made up its mind to make a nuclear bomb, citing serious consequences of a military strike. Dempsey has said that such strike could be "destabilizing," but he also told a congressional hearing Tuesday that he did not counsel the Israelis against attacking.
In recent weeks, the U.S. side has intensified its efforts to persuade Israel not to carry out a potential strike against Iran, and a string of high level officials were sent to Israel for visits in recent weeks, including National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and Dempsey.
But according to U.S. media reports, Netanyahu and Barak told them Israel would keep the U.S. side in the dark if they decided to attack Iran, in order to decrease the possibility that the United States would be held responsible for failing to stop the attack, although they have not made the final decisions on whether to attack.