WASHINGTON - Voicing concerns over Israel's growing isolation in the Middle East, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has urged the US-key ally to repair diplomatic ties with Turkey, Egypt and return to the negotiations table with the Palestinians, the BBC reported on Saturday, December 03.
"Unfortunately, over the past year, we've seen Israel's isolation from its traditional security partners in the region grow, and the pursuit of a comprehensive Middle East peace plan has effectively been put on hold," Panetta said at an event organized by the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for the Middle East, a Washington think-tank.
Over the past year, Israel has been scrambling to adapt to the changing situation in the Middle East following the popular uprising that swept several Arab countries.
In Egypt, long-standing president Hosni Mubarak was swept out of power in February after an 18-day revolt.
Similar revolutions swept the leaders of Tunisia and Libya from power. Syria and Yemen are also witnessing similar revolts.
As Israel was closely watching the new situation in the Arab countries, its relations with Egypt were badly restrained after a cross-border attack, which left at least three Egyptian soldiers killed.
The attack sent thousands of Egyptians into the streets to demand diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel severed.
Worse still, Israel is having a diplomatic crisis with Turkey, which is demanding an apology over the deaths of nine Turks in an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last year.
He added that the changes in Middle East leadership offered an opportunity for Israel to improve regional security.
"For example, Israel can reach out and mend fences with those who share an interest in regional security, countries like Turkey and Egypt, as well as Jordan," he said.
"And if the gestures are rebuked, the world will see those rebukes for what they are."
However, Panetta said the Israel was not entirely to blame for its difficult position, claiming that the US ally was the subject of an "international campaign" designed to isolate it.
The US defense chief called on Israel to restart peace talks immediately with the Palestinians.
Panetta said Israel should "lean forward on efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians".
"Rather than undermining the Palestinian Authority, it is in Israel's interests to strengthen it by... continuing to transfer Palestinian tax revenues and pursuing other avenues of co-operation," he said.
The peace process with the Palestinians has been stalled for more than a year, bedeviled by continuing Israeli settlement construction in occupied territories.
Last September, President Mahmoud Abbas applied for full UN membership.
The move comes following the collapse of US-sponsored peace talks over Israel's refusal to freeze settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
The United States has threatened to veto any Palestinian statehood resolution at the UN Security Council.
When asked by an audience member after his speech about Israel needed to take to promote peace with the Palestinians, he answered, "Just get to the damn table."
"The problem right now is we can't get them to the damn table."
While appealing to Israel to reach out to its regional neighbors, Panetta reaffirmed that President Barack Obama's administration was determined "to safeguard Israel's security."
The Pentagon chief also pledged Washington would ensure Israel continues to enjoy a clear military edge by providing the Jewish state with sophisticated missile defenses and new stealthy F-35 fighter jets.