U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Sunday that Israel could become isolated and more vulnerable if it did not take steps to improve relations with the Palestinians and neighboring countries, the Wall Street Journal reports.
“It is pretty clear at this dramatic time in the Middle East when there have been so many changes that it is not a good situation for Israel to become increasingly isolated. And that is what has happened,” Panetta reportedly said while traveling to Israel.
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“The question you have to ask is: ‘Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you are isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena?’ Real security can only be achieved by a strong diplomatic efforts as well as a strong effort to protect your military strength.”
He also said the United States remains committed to helping Israel maintain its military edge in the region.
Panetta started a trip to the Middle East Sunday that will take him to regional powers Israel and Egypt, CNN reports.
Panetta’s trip to Israel comes amid mounting tensions surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Palestinian Authority, arguing that efforts to achieve peace have failed, recently appealed to the United Nations for statehood, and Israel pushed forward plans to build 1,100 new homes on land the Palestinians hope will be part of their future state.
While in Israel, the defense secretary and former CIA director will try to restart direct negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, the Wall Street Journal states.
After Israel, Panetta will visit Egypt, where there are frustrations among pro-reform activists that a military-led council, which took over after former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February, has failed to implement reforms.
Panetta said he will try to help communication between Cairo and Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Israel said Sunday it supports the Middle East Quartet’s call for direct talks with Palestinian leaders to resume this month.