JERUSALEM, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hinted on Wednesday that the United States is prepared to implement "other options" if Iran continues to work toward attaining nuclear weapons.
"If they (Iran) continue and if they proceed with a nuclear weapon, ... we have options that we are prepared to implement to ensure that does not happen." Panetta said during a visit to an army "Iron Dome" anti-missile battery deployed near coastal Ashkelon, just north of Gaza together with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
"Iran must either negotiate acceptable limits on its nuclear program or face the possibility of U.S. military action to stop it from getting the bomb," Haaretz quoted Panetta as saying.
Barak alluded to "disagreements and differences of opinion," possibly over what stage of Iranian nuclear fuel enrichment towards a bomb would constitute a "tripwire" for a separate or combined Israeli or American military strike, according to a Defense Ministry's statement sent to Xinhua.
Panetta, in his remarks, echoed U.S. President Barack Obama's call for allowing tougher sanctions to coerce Teheran to halt its nuclear drive, before considering an attack.
Barak said that Israel "has something to lose," however, if the sanctions do not succeed, and Teheran continues building up its stock of enriched uranium.
"Like with every true friendship these disagreements can never alter the fundamental depth and special nature of the United States-Israel relationship," Barak said, adding "We are determined to keep it this way."
The visit comes amid a two-day high-level visit by the American official, whose talks with Barak and, later Wednesday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres are reportedly centering on fast-rising tensions with Iran.
Terming the defense-level ties between the countries " extraordinary," Barak noted increased cooperation "in a range of areas including intelligence, hi-tech and securing the qualitative military edge of Israel."
The U.S. administration recently allocated additional 70 million U.S. dollars to equip Israel with more Iron Dome batteries, Barak pointed out, in addition to the four already deployed in the south and center of the country.
"In the last year, the 'Iron Dome' system has been proven to be an extremely successful technological and operational project, extremely effective in intercepting more than 80 percent of the incoming missiles, while neglecting those which are not real threats. It has already intercepted more than 100 real missiles, rockets and grads," Barak said, and thanked the U.S. administration for the funds.
Palestinian militants in the coastal enclave, about five kilometers to the south, have fired hundreds of Grad and shorter- range Kassam rockets into the city over the last few years, including at hospitals and other civilian areas.
The radar-guided Iron Dome, developed in conjunction with the United States, automatically fires an interceptor rocket at the incoming missile if its trajectory is aimed at populated areas. The Israeli system has successfully foiled dozens of such attacks.
Panetta is scheduled to head for his last regional stop in Jordan on Thursday.