U.S. Defense Secretary to Arrive in Israel to Discuss Iran Nuclear Program

Leon Panetta meeting with Ehud Barak will also cover Israel-U.S. ties, Palestinian UN bid, Arab Spring.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will arrive in Israel on Monday and meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The two are due to discuss several issues including security ties between the U.S. and Israel, the Palestinian drive for independence, the "Arab Spring" and the Iranian nuclear program.

This will be the second meeting between Barak and Panetta within two weeks. The last meeting took place when Barak visited Washington just before the opening session of the United Nations' General Assembly that dealt with the Palestinian application. Barak also held meetings with General David Petraeus, who replaced Panetta as director of the Central Intelligence Agency earlier this year. In both cases, the meetings were announced only a few days before they took place.

Leon Panetta - Reuters - 9.9.2011

Panetta, who also visited Israel when he served as the CIA chief, is due to hold a joint press conference with Barak in the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv before continuing to Egypt, where he is scheduled to meet the leaders of the interim government.

Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are believed to favor an Israeli strike on Iran, while the Obama administration has gone out of its way to voice its objection to such a move. Panetta's predecessor at the Defense Department, Robert Gates, has repeatedly reiterated his objection to an Israeli strike, claiming that such a move would have severe consequences.

Admiral Michael Mullen, who last month stepped down from his role as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has passed numerous messages to Netanyahu, clarifying that Israel does not have a "green light" to attack Iran.

Lately the administration has refrained from direct remarks about a possible Israeli strike. Panetta said last month that in his opinion a revolution in Iran is only a "matter of time," and that the reformists and the opposition in Iran "learned a lot" from the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria.

On the other hand, former Vice President Dick Cheney said last month that he believes that Israel could decide on her own to strike Iranian nuclear facilities.