Has Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Crossed His Own Zone of Immunity?

By Aaron Marcus l February 7, 2012

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)


David Ignatius, senior opinion writer for the Washington Post, was traveling with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta when a firestorm erupted over his column, “Is Israel Preparing to Attack Iran?” Not because Ignatius has questioned whether such an act is possible, but because he admitted Panetta believes an attack is imminent. “Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June – before Iran enters what Israelis described as a ‘zone of immunity’ to commence building a nuclear bomb,” wrote Ignatius in a February 2nd opinion piece.

When questioned whether or not the statement was accurate, Panetta, attending a ministers of defense meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, responded, “I’m not going to comment on that. David Ignatius can write what he will but with regards with what I think and what I view, I consider that to be an area that belongs to me and nobody else.… Israel indicated they’re considering this [strike], we’ve indicated our concerns,” he said.

Such reckless rhetoric from an Obama administration official is not surprising, but the repercussions of such a statement at this crucial moment in international negotiations with Tehran threaten Israeli security and the future Israeli-U.S. relationship. As essential military allies, Israeli and American intelligence rely on each other in combating radical Islam. Any foreign attack against an Iranian nuclear facility depends largely on its element of surprise. If Panetta is signaling specific dates for a pre-emptive Israeli strike to reporters via the Washington Post then he is deliberately jeopardizing the success of any potential mission, perhaps with the intention of derailing Israel.

This failure to keep quiet about sensitive military strategy does not only threaten Israeli security but that of U.S. forces stationed in the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and Strait of Hormuz. Any Israeli attack will immediately place American troops on high alert, which is the reason Israel and the United States must coordinate an attack, if there is to be one. A proposition that both President Obama and Panetta have repeatedly said they are against. Israel will be left with fewer options in their effort to thwart Iran from developing nuclear capabilities, if no serious measure is acted upon in the near future. The information they pass along to the United States is intended to preserve American life in the region. But when Panetta tells the world what Israel is intending to do, he jeopardizes America’s relationship with Israel as well as the lives of American combat units. Israel needs to maintain these talks with the United States, but will feel constrained if someone of Panetta’s rank fails to maintain strict silence.

This is not the first time Panetta has hung Israel out to dry and demonstrated his hostility toward the lone Jewish State. At a gathering of the Saban Forum, he called for Israel to “just get to the damn table” in negotiations with the Palestinians and publicly stated that any attack against Iranian nuclear facilities would only delay the production of a bomb by one or two years. These responses highlight the lack of understanding the Obama administration has toward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Israel’s security. Israel has continuously been the only partner at the peace table with the Palestinians. Aside from achieving a lasting peace with Egypt and Jordan, Israel has relentlessly pursued peace with the Palestinians. In the year 2000 at the Camp David Summit, Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat 94 percent of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip, an offer he refused; in 2005 Israel displaced 10,000 Jews from their homes in the Gaza Strip in an effort to create peace, for which Israel was met with more than 10,000 rocket attacks from Gaza; and finally in 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas 93 percent of the West Bank, another offer he refused. The Palestinian leadership has perpetually declined Israeli offers because if they accept any agreement they know that the international community will hold them to it. Both Fatah and Hamas are terrorist organizations that seek complete control over Israel; any agreement that does not encompass the entire country will not suffice.

Panetta’s belief that an attack against Iran would only push back their nuclear capability by a year or two represents another gaffe in his logic. Clearly, he believes that the Iranians are developing nuclear weapons, yet he and the President see no better alternative then to constantly pressure economic sanctions against Iran. This has been U.S. policy since 1996 going back to the Clinton years. However, without the threat of force from the United States, Iran sees no point in stopping their program. Sanctions will disproportionately hurt the general public, and since both Ayatollah Khomenei and President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad have openly called for genocide against the Jewish people it’s difficult to see how a few million suffering Iranians will get in the way of their goal.

The Obama Administration failed to step in when Ahmedinejad rigged Iranian elections in 2009 and continues to drop the ball on stopping their nuclear proliferation. Washington is running out of time to take serious action against Iran and thwart their drive for deliverable nuclear capability. The least the Obama administration can do is to preserve Israeli defense secrets in order to save the State of Israel from this existential threat, as well as U.S. lives and interests abroad.

Aaron Marcus is a graduate of the National Journalism Center having served his internship as an editorial assistant at The Washington Times. He is currently a columnist for The Daily Targum at Rutgers University where he is an undergraduate student. Mr. Marcus is a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.