February 2nd, 2012
06:29 PM ET

Panetta believes Israel could strike Iran this spring

By Barbara Starr

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has come to the conclusion there is a growing likelihood Israel could attack Iran sometime this spring in an effort to destroy its suspected nuclear weapons program, according to a senior administration official.

The official declined to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the information.

Panetta's views were first reported by the Washington Post's David Ignatius, who wrote Panetta "believes there is strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June - before Iran enters what Israelis described as a 'zone of immunity' to commence building a nuclear bomb."

Asked by reporters in Brussels, where Panetta is attending NATO meetings, the defense secretary refused to comment. But Panetta told reporters the U.S. has "indicated our concerns" to Israel, according to a transcript provided by the Defense Department.

But the official also noted that Israel goes through cycles of making aggressive statements about its intentions toward Iran in an effort to pressure the United States and the West to take more action.

Iran's supreme leader issued a blunt warning Friday that war would be detrimental to the United States - and that Iran is ready to help anyone who confronts "cancerous" Israel.

"You see every now and then in this way they say that all options are on the table. That means even the option of war," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during Friday prayers in Tehran. "This is how they make these threats against us.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Thursday that Iran may be close to the point "which may render any physical strike as impractical," according to Reuters.

But just a few weeks ago, Barak suggested things were not as urgent, saying an Israeli decision on whether to strike Iran's nuclear program was "very far off."

A "confluence' of intelligence has led Panetta to this conclusion, the official told CNN, but declined to offer any specifics except noting that the United States conducts intelligence operations aimed at Israel as it does with many other allies.

The senior administration official also noted that there is a general understanding in the administration that Israel may have come to the firm conclusion Iran is developing a nuclear weapon.  Just last week, the recently retired chief of Israeli military intelligence told CNN's David McKenzie that the "Iranians have already decided that they want nuclear weapons," he said.  But he added they haven't decided fully to go through with creating the weapons.

The official U.S. assessment is that Iran has not yet made that decision, the source said.

At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus, who said he has regular discussions with Israel's leadership and intelligence head, noted that "Israel does see this possibility as an existential threat to their country, and I think that it is very important to keep that perspective in mind."

At the same hearing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper noted the United States works closely with the Israelis and said the notion that Israel could strike is "a very sensitive issue right now."

"This is an area that we are very, very concerned about," Clapper said.

Panetta's press secretary, George Little, declined to comment on the report. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said it would be premature for the United States to consider striking Iran.

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Filed under: Iran • Israel • Panetta • Panetta • Pentagon
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  16. Justin Case

    Peace in the Middle East.
    1- Israel should give full autonomy to all christian holy sites to the Vatican.
    2- The same should be done with the third holiest Moslim site, the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jersualem, to be run by Saudi Arabia.
    3- Give the Golan Hights back to Syria and sign a peace agreement with Israel with international guarantees.
    4-Give the west bank to the Palestinian to form their State and make Jersulaem an Internationl Capital of both countries.

    Just fu***ing try it, you can always go back to war.

    February 5, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Reply
    • BillyOmaha

      No offense intended JC but you clearly do not understand the religious issues involved. Christianity, the Bible, is "added onto" the Jewish Torah or Old Testament and the Quran includes much of the Old and New Testament by reference. They are religions of Abraham and Islam includes Jesus as "The Messiah" or messenger from God. In short, Christianity and Islam all claim New Testament sites. AND Jews, Christians and Muslims claim all Old Testament holy sites.

      The Dome of the Rock, which is Muslim and built upon the ruins of the Jewish Temple Mount is controlled by Muslims and with the consent of the Israelis. Jerusalem seems to be fairly quiet right now as most people who actually live there want to live in peace. It is only when outsiders (read Iraq with the $25K to suicide bomber families and Iran with funding for Hezbollah and Hamas) want to stir up trouble for Israel that conflict is initiated.

      The primary issue is that Religious fanatics on ALL three sides are driving the conflict. Extremist Jews in the settlements trying to create and environment for the first coming of the Messiah, extremist Christians in the US funding the extremist Jews to create conditions for the second coming and the Rapture and the Muslims want to jihad in order to be worthy of the return of Jesus (yes, that Jesus) to lead the fight in Armageddon.

      In short, the more literal the "Children of the Book" interpret their scripture, the more deadly they become for each other.

      We, the mainstream, a la carte religious types here in the U.S. cannot comprehend how seriously these Armies of God take the literal meaning of their canons.

      This conflict will continue until the fanatical religious elements of all three religions mature and stop taking their scriptures as "the literal word of God" and see them as man's interpretation of what God wants of man. Then and only then will they stop fighting.

      To quote Steven Weinberg: “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”

      February 20, 2012 at 2:09 am | Reply
      • eric calderone

        Actually, the basis of the trouble lies with British occupied Palestine in the first half of the twentieth century. The British imperial overlords handed over the fate of the region to the UN, which incredibly decided that it would resolve the fate of a third world people that were subjects of a western empire; a people that did not have the freedom of action to fully speak for themselves, and never consented to have the UN decide their fate. THe injustice of the Western World deciding on the disposition of a land and a people is rather difficult to fathom. So when people here in the West decry the stubbornness of the Palestinians to "accept" Israel, just ponder the beginnings of Israel. It is a State imposed on a third world people who were imprisoned in an Empire they wanted nothing to do with, and then had their fate decided by an international body dominated, and still dominated, by the major powers of the western world.

        Of course, we have not even considered the fact that all those Jewish immigrants only began arriving in the late 19th century, with British concurrence.

        February 20, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • The6thsense

      Or simply just get rid of stupid, use,ess religion.....and read a science book, not some old book written by some fanatic

      February 5, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Reply
      • eric calderone

        Religion is stupid, useless? That is a rather arbitrary, unscientific, conclusion or statement to make. Belief in a superhuman entity is a lot more rational, logical, than not believing in one. Just try to explain how matter, existence, came into being without a First Mover or Creator. It is rather difficult to posit a convincing explanation without seriously considering that there is First Mover or a First Cause. So, The6thSense, I wouldn't be so closed minded, so unscientific in your outlook.

        March 31, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
      • roman

        thats just wrong when god comes... god bless you i hope he changes his ways, why don't people believe in the bible

        March 12, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • BillyOmaha

      Clearly you do not understand the issue, which is this; Jews exist and Christians exist. We are facing religious fanatics and they believe they are doing as Allah (God) has commanded of them and convert all of us to Islam or put us to the sword. Our only hope is to set a secular example and challenge religious fanatics at every opportunity and hope that Islam goes through an era of Enlightenment similar to the Christians in the 1700's.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:07 am | Reply
      • kk

        You can clearly see who are the warmongers and out to convert everyone. The illegal invasion on Iraq wasn't enough and now shamelessly planning an illegal attack on another bunch of the Iranian Muslim people in front of the whole world with the support of some Arab governments who are now of them. Well thank God life is short :)

        Allah (God) words are always true, He says in the Quran about this evil Judeo-Christian alliance:
        "O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people."

        February 18, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • kk

      I think the best thing is that Israel should surrender its illegal nuclear weapons. There will be a balance of power in the Middle East and the world will be a safer place.

      February 18, 2012 at 9:15 am | Reply
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