From CNN National Security Producer Jennifer Rizzo
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged Israel to get to the "damn table" in peace talks with the Palestinians, an unusually blunt comment for a Secretary of Defense that inserts Panetta into the Middle East peace process.
In remarks at a Brookings Institution conference, a Washington DC think tank, Panetta called on Israel to again start negotiations with the Palestinians. “Just get to the damn table. Just get to the table,” Panetta said. “The problem right now is we can’t get them to the damn table to at least sit down and begin to discuss their differences.”
Panetta also charged that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated from the region. It’s not enough he said for Israel to rely on a strong military for security, diplomacy is also needed.
“Unfortunately, over the past year, we have seen Israel’s isolation from its traditional security partners in the region grow, and the pursuit of a comprehensive Middle East peace has effectively been put on hold,” Panetta said.
As examples Panetta said Israel could “reach out and mend fences” with countries like Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, countries that Panetta said share an interest in stability in the Middle East.
“If gestures are rebuked, the world will see those rebukes for what they are. That is exactly why Israel should pursue them,” Panetta said.
Panetta placed a special emphasis on Israel improving its relationship with Turkey, saying he has voiced this message in Jerusalem in the past and plans on voicing it again when he travels to Ankara, the Turkish capital, later this month.
Panetta did stress that Israel will “always have the unshakeable backing of the United States."
Next year the U.S. military and the Israeli Defense Forces will be conducting the largest ever joint exercises between the two countries. Ballistic missile and rocket defense capabilities will be tested.