(Newsroom America) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, on Wednesday, amid renewed fears the Jewish state could be planning a unilateral attack against neighboring Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program, maybe by this fall.
Panetta, who visited an Israeli anti-missile site in the southern city of Ashkelon, as well as other U.S. officials, said they remained hopeful the Israelis would refrain from any attack in the near term, following the flurry of diplomatic activity in recent weeks aimed at heading off an attack many believe would lead to full-scale war in the volatile region.
Despite the Obama administration's desire to allow more time for diplomacy, Panetta made clear the U.S. position would be to stand with Israel should Iran develop an atomic bomb, The New York Times reported.
"We have options that we are prepared to implement to ensure that that does not happen," Panetta told reporters.
"My responsibility is to provide the president with a full range of options, including military options, should diplomacy fail," Panetta said, standing near an anti-missile battery that is part of Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile shield, financed in large part by Washington.
In recent weeks Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser, have both met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Those trips were originally scheduled for both to meet the new president of Egypt, but the officials made additional trips to Israel as part of the White House's effort to stay abreast of Israel's intentions, the Times reported.
Also this week, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney met Israeli leaders as well, though not as part of a coordinated effort with the Obama administration. During his visit Romney took a harder stance against Israel than the White House has taken, or is taking.
For his part, Netanyahu appears resigned to a belief that sanctions in place against Iran as punishment for its suspected program won't work.
"Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program," he said recently. "This must change and it must change quickly because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out."
Other Israeli officials were equally dour.
"If I were an Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks," Efraim Halevy, a former chief of Israel’s intelligence agency and national security adviser, told the Times.
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