David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the official remembrance ceremony for David Ben-Gurion at Sde Boker Dec. 4, 2011. Photo by Pool
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Less than two days after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned of the grave consequences of an Israeli military strike against Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made veiled references to just such a possibility in a speech yesterday.

Speaking at the annual official memorial for Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu talked about making "the right decision at the right moment," even when allies object.

He did not mention Iran once, but the prime minister drew a clear parallel between Ben-Gurion's decision to declare the establishment of the state and the decisions that he himself might be forced to make in the face of Iran's nuclear program.

Netanyahu's description of Ben-Gurion's actions in the face of heavy international pressure seemed an obvious, if indirect, reference to the warnings against hitting Iranian nuclear installations voiced recently by Panetta and by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan.

"Great statesmen as well as friends of the Jews and of Zionism" warned Ben-Gurion that declaring a Jewish state in 1948 would bring an invasion of Arab armies and a "grave and difficult battle," Netanyahu said.

"He understood full well the decision carried a heavy price, but he believed not making that decision had a heavier price," Netanyahu said. "We are all here today because Ben-Gurion made the right decision at the right moment."

Netanyahu said Ben-Gurion deliberated long and hard before he decided to declare a state.

"Today we are all in agreement it was a considered, correct and responsible decision. I want to believe we will always act with responsibility, courage and determination to make the right decisions to ensure our future and security," Netanyahu said.

On Friday, Panetta warned Israel against attacking Iran and said that any action must be coordinated with Washington. "There is always a military option," he said, "but it must be the last resort, not the first."

Speaking to a pro-Israeli forum in the U.S. capital, Panetta warned that an attack would only delay Iran's nuclear program by a year or two while igniting "an escalation" that could "consume the Middle East in confrontation and conflict that we would regret."

Since leaving the Mossad in January, Dagan has been outspoken in warning about possible retaliatory attacks on Israel as well as a heightened regional conflict in the event of an assault against Iran.