Panetta to Barak: Israel Has the Right to Defend Itself
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak this week about the latest Israeli military moves in Gaza after increased rocket attacks from there, CNN reported on Thursday.
A senior U.S. defense official confirmed the conversation had taken place in the last few days while Panetta was traveling in Asia.
"They spoke about unacceptable attacks by Hamas and other groups in Gaza, and Panetta expressed the U.S. view that Israel has the right to defend itself," the official said, according to CNN.
The United States has given Israel the green light to go ahead with Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza. President Barack Obama spoke to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu early Thursday. A White House statement said that “the President reiterated to Prime Minister Netanyahu the United States' support for Israel's right to self defense in light of the barrage of rocket attacks being launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians. The President urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties."
The statement said Obama and Netanyahu agreed that Hamas needed to stop attacks on Israel to "allow the situation to de-escalate."
On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner also underscored Israel’s right to defend itself, saying, “We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence.
“There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately. We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties,” he added.
The UN Security Council, at an emergency closed session on Wednesday, discussed the situation in Gaza without coming to any decisions. During the meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice strongly defended Israel, saying that said there was no justification for the violence that "Hamas and other terrorist organizations" are aiming at Israel.
“We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately,” Rice said, adding that the rocket attacks were harming efforts to end the Middle East conflict and create a PA state. “Hamas claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that does nothing but set back the Palestinian cause. Attacking Israel on a near daily basis does nothing to help Palestinians in Gaza nor to move the Palestinian people any closer to achieving self determination and independence.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron also seemed to express an understanding for the IDF operation, when he told Netanyahu on Thursday "Hamas bears the principal responsibility for the crisis."
A Downing Street spokesman told AFP that Cameron told Netanyahu “the rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel by Hamas and other armed groups were completely unacceptable and that the increasing frequency of rocket attacks in recent days was the immediate cause of the situation.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, however, slammed the IDF operation as an act of savagery.
"Another savage aggression against the Gaza Strip has begun. Once again, the state of Israel is bombing the Gaza Strip," Chavez, a close associate of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whose country arms Hamas, told a cabinet meeting televised by state-run TV.
Venezuela broke off relations with Israel in 2009 during Operation Cast Lead.