Sen. Levin, Panetta defend Obama record on Israel, Iran from GOP attacks

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Panetta, who said he was the first Defense secretary to address AIPAC in more than 20 years, touted the actions Obama has taken militarily — including the Afghanistan surge, the Libyan bombing campaign, sending ships through the Strait of Hormuz and the killing of 9/11 terrorist Osama bin Laden — as evidence he would act against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The secretary reiterated Obama’s statement that a policy of containment with Iran is not acceptable.

“President Obama has shown that we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people, our allies and our interests,” Panetta said. “We prefer a diplomatic path. As the prime minister has said — military action is the last alternative when all else fails. But make no mistake, we will act if we have to.”

Republicans have accused Obama of not acting strongly enough against Iran and its nuclear program. They have criticized him for urging Israel not to attack Iran and for calling for sanctions to be given more time.

Panetta and Levin both played up the coordination on missile defense between the United States and Israel as evidence of the bond between the two countries.

Levin said Obama has strengthened the U.S.-Israel relationship by boosting military aid to Israel in a time of austerity.

“The president has not just talked,” Levin said. “He has acted.”

Panetta said the United States has made “an ironclad pledge” that it will “provide whatever support is necessary for Israel to maintain military superiority over any state or coalition of states, as well as non-state actors.”

“In confronting challenges, and securing peace, Israel will always have the unshakable backing of the United States,” Panetta said.