Panetta warns Israel against ‘isolation’

WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned Israel about becoming more isolated in the Middle East than it is now.

"It’s pretty clear that 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," Panetta was quoted by wire services as telling reporters Sunday aboard his plane to Israel, where he was headed for an official visit. He arrived in Israel on Monday morning.

Panetta said the United States was committed to helping Israel maintain its qualitative military edge in the region.

"But the question you have to ask is, is it enough to maintain a military edge if you are isolating yourself diplomatically?" Panetta said. "Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength."

Panetta in meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders will urge them to return to peace talks under a formula crafted by the Obama administration and endorsed by the international community.

Panetta said he would urge the Palestinians to return to talks without preconditions, as Israel has done.

"The most important thing they can do is go to the negotiating table," he was quoted as saying.

The Palestinians have refused to return to talks until Israel freezes settlement building.

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