By Jeremy Herb - 08/14/12 07:24 PM EDT
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that he did not believe Israel had decided yet whether it should attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, playing down reports in Israel that a strike could be near.
“I don’t believe they’ve made the decision as to whether or not they will go in and attack Iran at this time,” Panetta said at a Pentagon press briefing Tuesday.
The Defense secretary reiterated President Obama’s call for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian crisis, saying the window for diplomacy with Iran remained open.
An Israeli media report last week that said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minster Ehud Barak favored a strike against Iran in the fall has sparked a new wave of speculation in Israel about a potential unilateral attack.
“We still think there is room to continue to negotiate,” Panetta said Tuesday, adding that the new sanctions are “beginning to have an additional impact.”
Obama signed into law a new round of tougher sanctions against Iran on Friday.
The United States, Israel and others suspect Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, but Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who appeared with Panetta on Tuesday, said that while he was not privy to all of Israel’s operations, he thought it was fair to say that an Israeli strike would likely delay but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
Israel has considered a unilateral attack without U.S. coordination because it has less capability than Washington to dismantle Iran's nuclear facility. Israeli officials have warned that they have less time than the United States to attack Iran's facilities before they are unable to do so successfully, and that their time is quickly running out.