U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta flies to Israel this week after starting a week-long Middle East trip in Tunisia with optimism that Syrian President Bashar Assad will fall.
Coming on the tail of Mitt Romney’s headline-making visit to Israel, Panetta spoke optimistically on Israel, insisting that “the U.S.-Israel defense relationship…is stronger today than it has been in the past,” a remark that contradicts a message in Romney’s campaign that the Obama administration has been less than kind to Israel.
Iran is at the top of the agenda when he visits Jerusalem, and Panetta said, "With regards to where Israel is right now, my view is that they have not made any decisions with regards to Iran and that they continue to support the international effort to bring pressure against Iran.”
Prior to arriving in Israel, he will visit Egypt, where the United States is trying to come to terms with a Muslim Brotherhood government that has not yet completed the transition from the provisional military regime that replaced ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Concerning Syria, the Defense Secretary estimated that Sunday’s battles in the city of Aleppo “ultimately will be a nail in Assad's own coffin.” However, similar predictions have been made for a year, and Assad has continued to remain in power, oblivious to Western countries’ toothless jawboning against aerial bombings of citizens, most of them unarmed.
"What Assad has been doing to his own people and what he continues to do to his own people makes clear that his regime is coming to an end. It's lost all legitimacy," he said."It's no longer a question of whether he's coming to an end, it's when,” according to Reuters.
However, he continued to reject direct American military support for the rebels, speaking only of the need to "provide assistance to the opposition” through non-lethal supplies, such as communications gear and medical equipment.
Reuters has learned that the White House has crafted a presidential directive, called a "finding," that would authorize greater covert assistance for the rebels, but stop short of arming them.