Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on November 15, 2011 in Washington, DC.
Credit: Mark Wilson

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday told Israel to get back to the "damn table" and negotiate with the Palestinians, Reuters reported.

Speaking at a Brookings Institution conference in Washington, Panetta warned of Israel's growing isolation in the Middle East – saying it needed to use diplomacy, and not just rely on its military, for security.

Panetta said:

Just get to the damn table. Just get to the table. The problem right now is we can't get them to the damn table to at least sit down and begin to discuss their differences.

Panetta said that while the United States would work to ensure regional stability, “Israel, too, has a responsibility to pursue these shared goals.”

He was clear that Israel would always have the “unshakeable backing” of the US.

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Panetta reiterated that Iran would not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, but said a military strike was not the correct course of action, and that economic sanctions were proving effective.

He said the pursuit of a peace in the Middle East peace had been put on hold over the past year, as Israel becomes increasingly isolated from its traditional security partners in the region, CNN reported.

Israel could "reach out and mend fences" with countries that share an interest in stability in the Middle East such as Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, Panetta said.

If those gestures were rebuked, the world would see those rebukes for what they are, he added.

Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab countries that recognize Israel, the BBC reported.

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