Eli Lake
The Daily Beast
December 28, 2011

When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta opined earlier this month that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities could “consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret,” the Israelis went ballistic behind the scenes. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, lodged a formal diplomatic protest known as a demarche. And the White House was thrust into action, reassuring the Israelis that the administration had its own “red lines” that would trigger military action against Iran, and that there is no need for Jerusalem to act unilaterally.

Panetta’s seemingly innocent remarks on Dec. 2 triggered the latest drama in the tinder-box relationship that the Obama administration is trying to navigate with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. With Republicans lining up to court Jewish donors and voters in America in 2012, Obama faces a tricky election-year task of ensuring Iran doesn’t acquire a nuclear bomb on his watch while keeping the Israelis from launching a preemptive strike that could inflame an already teetering Middle East.

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