* Panetta to meet Netanyahu, Barak during Israel visit
* Says 'various contingencies' to be discussed
* Netanyahu says no decision made regarding Iran strike
By Phil Stewart
CAIRO, July 31 U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon
Panetta denied media reports on Tuesday that he would discuss
possible military attack plans against Iran during a brief visit
Speaking at a press conference in Cairo shortly before
departing for Israel, Panetta said he would be talking about
"various contingencies", but said specific military plans would
not be put forward.
"I think it's the wrong characterization to say we are going
to be discussing potential attack plans. What we are discussing
are various contingencies and how we would respond," he said.
Asked whether these included military options, he said: "We
obviously continue to work on a number of options in that area,
but the discussions that I hope to have with Israel are going to
be more about what is the threat that we're confronting and to
try to share both information and intelligence on that."
Western powers believe Iran is seeking the technology to
build a nuclear bomb and Israel has repeatedly hinted it might
use force to try to halt its arch foe's atomic programme. Tehran
says its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes.
The United States has said it is determined to prevent Iran
from getting the bomb, but has called on Israel to give more
time for increasingly severe economic sanctions to work.
"Both of our countries are committed to ensuring that Iran
does not develop a nuclear weapon and to that extent we continue
to work together in the effort to ensure that Iran does not
reach that point of developing a nuclear weapon," Panetta said.
Top selling Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth said on Tuesday
that Panetta intended to show Israeli leaders the plans being
drawn up by the Pentagon to stop Iran if diplomacy and sanctions
failed to persuade Tehran to halt its nuclear programme.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had not
yet decided whether to attack Iran's nuclear facilities,
dismissing repeated media reports that the military objected to
such an operation against far-flung, fortified Iranian sites.
"In Israeli democracy, as in any democracy, the political
echelon is the one that decides and the professional echelon
(the military) executes. I have not yet made a decision," he
told Israel's Channel Two news on Tuesday evening.
He added that the debate in the media about a possible
offensive was "harmful" and "not serious".
The Israeli army chief, Benny Gantz, told reporters in Tel
Aviv earlier in the day that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF)
were ready to attack Iran if ordered to.
"The IDF is ready and prepared for action and as we see it
'all options are on the table' is not a slogan, it is a working
plan and we are doing it," he said, referring to a line often
repeated by Israeli politicians when discussing Iran.
Panetta is due to meet his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak,
and Netanyahu during his stay in Israel, part of a broader trip
to the Middle East and Africa.
A senior Israeli official on Sunday denied a separate
newspaper report that President Barack Obama's national security
adviser had briefed Netanyahu on a U.S. contingency plan to
attack Iran should diplomacy fail to curb its nuclear ambitions.