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Leon Panetta in Israel: Will his urgent messages bring action?

Amid US concerns over Israel's growing isolation from its Mideast neighbors, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has an urgent message for the country's leaders: Re-engage in the peace process.

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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta answers questions aboard an Air Force plane over the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday. Panetta is traveling to the Middle East to meet with leaders on various issues related to the region.

Win McNamee/AP

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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, traveling at a time of what some analysts say are profound and lasting changes in the US-Israel relationship, is carrying a couple of high-priority messages to America’s closest ally in the Middle East.

On his first visit to Israel as Pentagon chief, Secretary Panetta’s first order of business appeared to be to air US concerns about Israel’s growing isolation from its neighbors – some of whom are also critical partners of the US.

In meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Secretary Panetta is sharing his concern that Israel is endangering its own security with the recent deterioration in its relations with neighbors like Egypt and Turkey.

Panetta is carrying another message from the White House to his Israeli interlocutors: Find a way to resume peace talks with the Palestinians.

“Panetta is carrying water for the White House with this message that the Israelis need to re-engage in the peace process,” says James Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

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