Obama questioned need for Israel’s military edge in Middle East

US President Barack Obama once questioned the necessity of maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East, the former American defence secretary said yesterday.

Former Pentagon chief Leon Panetta said the White House was deeply concerned that Israel was preparing for a unilateral strike on Iran as well as hoping to complete a military deal with Saudi Arabia.

According to US law, America must guarantee Israel’s qualitative military edge in any military sales to the Middle East.

“We were going through a lot of contortions in order to deal with this issue, to develop the kind of technical responses that you have to develop in order to make sure that you protect Israel’s qualitative edge,” Panetta told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy at an event.

“The president kept asking, ‘why can’t we get this damn sale done?’”

Obama, Panetta said, then “reflected some anger about why the hell do we have to do this in the first place. And I said, ‘because we made that obligation, and because it is important, particularly with our relationship with Israel, that we protect that.’ And look, I think he understood that. But like all presidents, you sometimes get pissed off.”

At the event, Panetta emphasized the importance of the US-Israel relationship and said that the next president of the United States should work to shore up relations, which have frayed between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.