ON BOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT (AP) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is warning that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East, and says Israeli leaders must restart negotiations with the Palestinians and work to restore relations with Egypt and Turkey.
Panetta, who was flying to Israel Sunday night, says it is "not a good situation" for Israel during a time of upheaval in the Arab world.
The Pentagon chief says Israel's "military edge" is not enough, adding that real security also requires "a strong diplomatic effort."
Panetta is scheduled to meet with top Israeli and Palestinian leaders this week, and then travel to a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels. His visit comes as Mideast negotiators push for a peace deal by the end of next year.
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In a blunt assessment made as he was traveling to Israel, Panetta said 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," Panetta 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."
Panetta is scheduled to meet this week with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and then travel to a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels. His visit comes as Mideast negotiators push for a peace deal by the end of next year, amping up pressure for the resumption of long-stalled talks.
The Pentagon chief said 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," he said.