Town Hall Meeting with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta
... Q: Sir, my name is Senior Master Sergeant Michael Lamont (sp) from Global Strike A47. Sir, you alluded to earlier problem areas that we have, and my question is -- comes from that area, one of them being in the Middle East. How close is Israel to going to war with Iran?
SEC. PANETTA: The question was on Israel and Iran.
Let me begin by saying that we have common cause and common concerns with Israel and with the international community about Iran.
We've made very clear that Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon. We will not tolerate an Iran that has a nuclear weapon.
Secondly, we've made clear that we will not tolerate an Iran that tries to block the Straits of Hormuz. A fifth of the oil of the world goes through those straits. They're international waters. We're not going to allow them to block that.
And frankly, we don't want an Iran that basically spreads violence around the world, that supports terrorism, that conducts acts of violence. They planned an attack here against ambassadors of other countries here in the United States.
So we're not going to tolerate that, and we've made that clear. And as a result, the international community has come together. We have implemented strong diplomatic sanctions, we have implemented very strong economic sanctions, and we're continuing to do that -- sanctions that are in many ways crippling Iran, crippling their economy, isolating them from the rest of the world, and having an impact on Iran.
The basic message is, you got to change your behavior. If you're a nation that wants to be part of the international family of nations, then join it. Operate by international rules. Operate by international laws. Join us in a -- in an effort to try to diplomatically reduce your efforts in terms of nuclear capability.
So that pressure needs to continue, and Israel has been part of that. And my hope is that -- for the future, that Israel will be part of that international effort to keep the pressure on. That's the most effective way to isolate Iran and to keep the pressure on.
If they cross one of those lines I talked about, then we have all options on the table -- we, the United States, have all options on the table. But, as the prime minister of Israel himself said, that ought to be the last option, not the first.
...SEC. PANETTA: Yeah, I think, you know, the issue for us as we went through the -- (audio break) -- you know, we talked about is -- the kind of stability operations that we had in Iraq and Afghanistan, you know, is that going to be something we're going to face again in the future.
And the sense was, you know, that we need to have the flexibility if we have to confront that situation, but the hope is that when we go to war, that we're going to be able to go to war and be able to get a victory and be able to do the kind of transitions that we can do, without having a huge stability force that's going to have to be there, as we -- (chuckles) -- over 10 years, as in the case of Iraq, and have to repeat that kind of process; that we're going to be smarter than that for the future
But having said that, you know, I don't think we can be naive, either; that as we achieve -- as we have to confront the challenges of the future, we may very well have to have some stability operations.
We have a sufficient force. I've got 490,000 -- at the end of 2017, we're going to have to have 490,000 troops in the Army. We're going to have almost 182,000 Marines that are going to be there [total end strength]. We'll have a very significant force that will be in place even after we -- as we go -- as we go through this drawdown over these next five years.
So number one, we'll have more than an adequate force, not only to fight a land war but obviously to conduct stability operations if we have to.
If we're facing a number of crises, then obviously one of the things we would have to do, as we did after 9/11, is mobilize and be able to bring more people in through the reserves and the National Guard to help play that role.
But I think our view is, it's not that we're never going to be able to conduct stability operations, but we just -- hopefully we're a hell of a lot smarter about when we have to do that and how we do it, so we won't be bogged down the way we were over these last 10 years.