Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the AIPAC audience this morning that President Obama’s commitment to Israel is proven by increased security assistance to the Jewish state and backed up by the commander in chief’s words and deeds.
“He has made it a priority to boost Israel’s military superiority in the Middle East,” he said. “For one simple reason: we have no better ally in this critical region of the world.”
Panetta was the first secretary of Defense to address the policy conference in more than 20 years.
He spent much of his speech talking about his personal commitment to Israel, and a fondness for the Jewish people built in part by rooming with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — and nine other congressmen — in a D.C. house when both were in the House of Representatives.
“If you’ve seen the movie ‘Animal House,’ you’ll have some idea what that was like,” Panetta said.
He and Schumer bunked in the same room. “Every night he made me say the Shema,” he said. “I made him say the Hail Mary.”
Panetta noted that he shares a close relationship with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. “There is no minister of defense I’ve met with more regularly,” he said. “We talk, we argue, we eat, we are family.”
Despite massive cutbacks at the Pentagon, he vowed that the budget “makes very clear our commitment to confront and defeat any adversary anytime, anywhere.”
He reiterated Obama’s pledge that containment of Iran is not an option, said military force is an option on the table, and stressed that America must remain vigilant against myriad world threats ranging from North Korea to cyberattacks.
“The threats in the world that we face are still very real,” Panetta said. “In the face of these threats, we must never rest easy. Too many lives have been lost and too much blood has been spilled.”
“The president has shown he will do whatever is necessary to protect our people… and our allies,” he said.
“Make no mistake — when all else fails, we will act.”