JERUSALEM, Israel -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Israel Monday for his first visit since replacing outgoing secretary Robert Gates six months ago.
On board his flight, Panetta told the press that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated from its Arab neighbors and must find a way to restart negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and restore its relationship with Turkey and Egypt in particular.
"It's pretty clear that at this dramatic time in the Middle East, when there have been so many changes, that it is not a good situation for Israel to become increasingly isolated," Panetta said, referring to the so-called "Arab Spring."
Panetta said it's important that the U.S. "again reaffirm our strong security relationship with Israel, to make clear that we will protect their qualitative military edge."
"As they take risks for peace, we will be able to provide the security they will need in order to ensure they can have the room hopefully to negotiate," he said.
"Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength," Panetta told reporters.
The defense minister will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak before traveling to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
His trip to the region also includes a meeting with NATO defense ministers in Brussels and with Egypt's interim government.