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Panetta to urge Israel to do more to reduce regional isolation

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ov. 15, 2011: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

On Friday night, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will address the Saban Forum--a gathering of Middle East policy hands at Washington's Brooking Institution. Not surprisingly, the Defense secretary will stress recent developments in the effort to curb Iran's nuclear program.  At the same time, however, Panetta is also expected to call on Israel to do more to reduce its diplomatic isolation and build regional support for shared security objectives.

"Our deliberate and focused approach to Iran, our efforts to enhance regional stability, and our unshakeable commitment to Israel's security make clear that even at this time of great change, our determination to safeguard Israel's security is steady and sure--indeed, it is stronger than ever," Panetta will say, according to planned remarks shared with national security reporters.

"Israel, too, has a responsibility to pursue these shared goals--to build regional support for Israeli and United States security objectives," Panetta will say. "I believe security is dependent on a strong military, but it is also dependent on strong diplomacy.  And unfortunately, over the past year, we've seen Israel's isolation from its traditional security partners in the region grow, and the pursuit of a comprehensive Middle East peace has effectively been put on hold."

Panetta previously raised concerns over growing regional isolation in the region during a visit to the Jewish state in October, noting that the Arab Spring protests had . More recently, the Pentagon chief warned about the dire consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear program.

American officials have indicated that Israeli leaders have refused to give Washington advance notice of any prospective plans to carry out a strike on Iran.

Among those set to attend the Saban Forum this weekend in Washington is former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who has become a vocal critic of a possible Israeli strike on Iran.

In her own address to the Saban Forum last December, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was abandoning efforts to persuade Israel to reissue a new freeze on settlement construction. Palestinians refused to return to peace talks without such a freeze in place.

Those talks have never been revived. And days after Clinton's remarks, the Arab awakening erupted, leading to the ouster of the Tunisian and Egyptian dictators, and reshaping critical alliances and power dynamics within the region. Just this week, Egypt held its first post-Mubarek round of parliamentary elections, which are expected to give a significant majority of seats to Islamist and conservative Islamic parties.

You can watch Panetta's speech, which begins at 6PM EST, live  here.

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