Media Availability with Secretary Panetta

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - August 1, 2012

            STAFF:  Ladies and gentlemen, hi.  And the Minister of Defense will start with a short statement.

            ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER EHUD BARAK:  Defense Secretary Panetta, welcome to Iron Dome Ashkelon.

            I would like to thank the United States administration for its generous assistance, and in particular its latest investment in Iron Dome project.

            The relationship between our defense establishments is extraordinary.  Much of the credit for this genuinely special relationship must be given to my friend and counterpart, Secretary Leon Panetta, and of course to President Obama.

            Our ties with the United States have extended in a range of areas, including intelligence, high-tech, and securing the qualitative military edge of Israel.  The defense relationship underpins greater and wider cooperation between the two countries.  It also highlights the undeniable  mutual commitment that exists between Israel and America.

            The American administration recently allocated additional $70 million to equip Israel with more of Iron Dome.  During the recent (inaudible) the Iron Dome system has been proven to be an extremely successful technological and operational project, extremely effective intercepting more than 80 percent of incoming missiles, neglecting those who are not going to hit real targets, and already intercepted more than 100 real missiles and rockets from the Gaza Strip.

            We want to thank the administration for these funds that have already been transferred to Israel defense establishment.  The region, our region, the Middle East is subject to dynamic changes (inaudible).  Israel and America are vigilantly monitoring all of the regional developments.

            Like any relationship, from time to time there are disagreements and differences of opinion.  However, with true friendship these disagreements can never alter the fundamental depth and special nature of the United States-Israel relationship.  We are determined to keep it this way.

            Thank you very much, Secretary Panetta, and have a successful visit here.  Thank you.

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA:  Thank you very much, Minister Barak, my good friend Ehud, and good morning everyone.  It's a real pleasure to be here on my second visit to Israel as Secretary of Defense.  This is about my fifth visit to the country since joining the Obama administration in 2009.

            It's also a great honor to be standing here alongside my friend Ehud, who I deeply respect as a leader, as a statesman and as a warrior.

            The first call I received from a foreign counterpart after I was sworn in as Secretary of Defense was from Ehud, and I have met with him more than any other Minister of Defense.

            I agree with what he has said.  The U.S.-Israel defense relationship is stronger than it has ever been before.  And I share his commitment to strengthening that relationship even further.

            Let me begin by publicly expressing my condolences to the people of Israel for the five Israeli citizens who were murdered this month while vacationing in Bulgaria, and the many others who were injured in that attack.

            The attack is a reminder that both the United States and Israel continue to be threatened by violent extremism simply because of the values that we share.

            The Israeli people should know that the United States stands with them in this fight and in the fight to ensure peace in this region, and that we have a rock-solid commitment to Israel's security and the security of its citizens.

            This commitment, this partnership is more important than ever because of the real security challenges that we see emanating from this region, which are a focus of my discussions with Israeli leaders during this visit and a focus of this trip to the region.

            On Israel's northern shore, its northern border, the Assad regime is engaged in brutal violence against its citizens, which is both an affront to our values and a threat to regional stability.

            At the same time, Iran's pursuit of nuclear capabilities and its destabilizing activities, including its support for Assad, for Hezbollah and for international terrorism, poses a threat not only to Israel, but to the entire region.

            The United States is also a focus of that threat as indeed the rest of the world.

            On Syria, we firmly believe that a political transition is the best way forward, and we are urgently working with like-minded nations to pressure Assad and find a political solution in order to bring the violence, terrible violence, as well as the regime to an end.

            On Iran, the United States and Israel share the same goal:  preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.  The most effective way to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is for the international community to be united, proving to Iran that it will only make itself less secure if it continues to try to pursue a nuclear weapon.

            We have been steadily applying more and more pressure against Tehran, focusing on diplomatic and economic sanctions, and I believe these steps are having an effect.  But it is clear that we need to continue to apply maximum pressure.  And make no mistake, we will.

            Just yesterday, President Obama announced additional sanctions to further penalize and isolate Iran, building on the toughest sanctions that Iran has ever faced.

            It's my responsibility as Secretary of Defense to provide the president with a full range of options, including military options, should diplomacy fail.  President Obama has made clear that preventing a nuclear-armed Iran is a top national security priority by the United States and that all options -- all options -- are on the table.

            The United States has made an enduring commitment to Israel's security, backed not only by our words, but by our deeds.  The Iron Dome facility that you see behind me is one example of that commitment.  Since Iron Dome has been deployed, it has been a game-changer for Israel's security.  It has saved Israeli lives and it has achieved a better than 80 percent success rate against rockets fired on Israeli population centers.

            Last March, there were 12 rocket attacks in this area -- 12 -- and this battery successfully intercepted every one of them, saving lives and preventing further escalation of conflict.

            When I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Washington last March, he told me something that I think makes the point:  These missile shields do not start wars, they prevent wars.  I strongly agree with the prime minister, and for that reason I'm proud of the Obama administration's strong record of support for Iron Dome and other rocket and missile defense systems.

            We've already provided more than $200 million for Israel to acquire additional batteries.  And last week the president announced an additional $70 million is being transferred to Israel for the current fiscal year.

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