Panetta, Barak: U.S.-Israel Defense Ties Stronger Than Ever

U.S. defense secretary meets with Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak in Jerusalem; senior Israeli official says Netanyahu and Barak will tell Panetta that Israel has the right to make its own decision on an attack on Iran.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday and the two emphasized the close defense ties between Israel and the U.S.

"The defense ties between Israel and the United States are stronger and tighter than they have ever been and the credit now has to go, most of it, to you, Leon," Barak said while greeting Panetta at the Israeli defense headquarters in Jerusalem.

Panetta reiterated Barak's comments. "We are a friend, we are a partner, we have, as the defense minister has pointed out, probably the strongest U.S.-Israel defense relationship that we have had in history. What we are doing, working together, is an indication not only of our friendship but of our alliance to work together to try to preserve peace in the future."

Panetta arrived in Israel on Tuesday night for a brief visit that will focus on the American-Israeli dispute over whether to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak plan to stress that Israel reserves the right to defend itself, and to make its own decision on whether to attack.

Another major topic of discussion will be efforts to prevent Syria's chemical weapons from reaching Lebanon.

A senior government official told Haaretz that even if Jerusalem attacks Iran over Washington's objections, he doesn't think the United States will turn its back on Israel. Israel, he added, must retain sole responsibility for its security.

Panetta's visit comes against the backdrop of a rash of media reports about the possibility of an Israeli strike. In a series of interviews with Israeli television stations on Tuesday, Netanyahu said, "Iran wants to annihilate us. I won't let that happen."

He also stressed that regardless of the defense establishment's views, it's the government that will make the decision on whether to attack. He was responding to media reports stating that virtually all senior defense officials, including Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, vehemently oppose an attack now, in the run-up to the U.S. election in November.