Panetta on Iran: 'We Will Act If We Have To'

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told AIPAC the US would use military force to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Gabe Kahn. ,

Leon Panetta
Leon Panetta

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Tuesday vowed the United States would take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon if diplomacy fails.

"Military action is the last alternative when all else fails," he said at the America Israel Policy Committee conference. "But make no mistake, we will act if we have to."

Panetta was affirming a sentiment expressed in by US President Barack Obama in his AIPAC speech on Sunday, where he declared that the United States will "not hesitate to use force" against Iran.

Panetta's critics, however, say he intentionally leaked Israel's potential time-table for a strike on Iran's nuclear program in order to hamstring Jerusalem's military option.

Obama has refused to set red-lines that would trigger a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities and insists his sanctions-only diplomatic track is working.

That has been a major point of contention between Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who has gone on record saying sanctions are not working.

Despite the recent bid by US officials to reassure Israeli policy makers by amping up their rhetoric vis-a-vis Iran, Israeli officials have expressed disappointment with Washington's "lack of resolve."

They note Iran has sufficient stockpiles of Low Enriched Uranium at 20% to start a sprint for 93% "weapons grade" High Enriched Uranium that would be difficult to detect and only take 2.5 to 3 months to complete. 

Obama and Netanyahu met in the White House on Monday with Iran at the top of their agenda. However, despite the outward display of unity, clear policy differences emerged.

Netanyahu reportedly told Obama that Israel would remain the master of her own fate and would exercise its sovereignty in all matters of defense and foreign policy.

The statement was widely seen in Washington as a reaffirmation of US policy makers' belief that Israel will strike Iran in the coming months if Tehran does not alter its course.

Some analysts say Obama's recent tough-talk on Iran combined with his refusal to commit to so-called red lines is a tacit "green light" for an Israeli strike intended to put pressure on Iran.

Meanwhile, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany announced Tuesday they would resume nuclear talks with Iran in the coming weeks.

Iran simultaneously announced it would grant UN nuclear inspectors access to the Parchin military complex as a "goodwill gesture."

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors believe Parchin houses a large test chamber for the high-explosives needed to trigger a nuclear warhead.