U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Sunday that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East, The Associated Press reported.
Panetta added Israel must restart negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and work to restore relations with Egypt and Turkey.
Panetta made the comments as he was traveling to Israel, saying the ongoing upheaval in the Middle East makes it critical for the Israelis to find ways to communicate with other nations in the region in order to have stability.
“There’s not much question in my mind that they maintain that (military) edge,” AP quoted Panetta as having told reporters traveling with him. “But the question you have to ask: Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena? Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength.”
He added that Israel risks eroding its own security if it does not reach out to its neighbors.
“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. And that’s what's happening,” Panetta said.
He added the most important thing now is for Israel and its neighbors “to try to develop better relationships so in the very least they can communicate with each other rather than taking these issues to the streets.”
Upon his arrival in the region, Panetta is scheduled to meet with Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak and with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, as well as with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Panetta said he intends to stress to both sides that instead of setting conditions or pursuing other approaches, “the most important thing they can do is go to the negotiating table. That would be a tremendous signal to the world that both the Israelis and the Palestinians want to try to find a solution to these problems. I don’t think they really lose anything by getting into negotiations.”
Earlier on Sunday, Israel officially accepted a plan by the Quartet to restart negotiations with the PA.
Netanyahu’s Office said in a statement that Israel “welcomes the Quartet’s call for direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions, as called for by both President [Barack] Obama and by Prime Minister Netanyahu” in their respective speeches at the United Nations General Assembly.
The PMO statement added that even though Israel had reservations about the plan, “we will raise them at the appropriate time. We call upon the Palestinian Authority to do the same and to enter into direct negotiations without delay,” the statement said.
The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, was not quick to accept the Quartet’s proposal, opting instead to demand that Israel freeze Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria as a precondition for entering talks.