Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta tried to calm Israeli leaders Wednesday on the Iranian nuclear threat, but his motorcade infuriated motorists, stuck on major highways that were turned into Israel’s largest parking lots.
Instead of moving him around by helicopter, officials decided to have him travel by car from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem Tuesday night. Police closed off Highway 1, leaving motorists stranded for half an hour shortly after the evening rush hour.
The timing Wednesday morning was even worse, coming at 8:30 a.m., when drivers were prevented from using the Ayalon Highway through the city as well as the exit from Highway 6 (Kvish 6), Israel’s high-speed north-south toll road.
Other than angering motorists and creating traffic jams, Panetta kept his public remarks on a highly diplomatic if not non-committal level and without content. He told Defense Minister Ehud Barak, "There is much to discuss as there are great and many problems."
Panetta is visiting Israel after beginning his week-long Middle East tour in Tunisia and Egypt.
Iran and Syria top the agenda. He admitted that sanctions against Iran have not achieved their propose of stopping Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s unsupervised nuclear development, but he maintained that further pressure will convince Iran to "do what's right."
Before leaving Cairo for Israel, Panetta denied media reports on Tuesday that he would discuss possible military attack plans against Iran during his visit to Israel.
"I think it's the wrong characterization to say we are going to be discussing potential attack plans. What we are discussing are various contingencies and how we would respond," he said.
As usual, he left the “military option” on the table, but emphasized, “The discussions that I hope to have with Israel are going to be more about what is the threat that we're confronting and to try to share both information and intelligence on that."