An opinion article published in the "Washington Post" characterized Panetta as believing there is a "strong likelihood" Israel will strike Iran in April, May, or June -- apparently around the time that Israel believes Iran will have enough enriched uranium to begin final work on building a nuclear weapon.
The piece, titled "Is Israel Preparing To Attack Iran?," said both Panetta and President Barack Obama have told Israel that an attack would derail economic sanctions and other nonmilitary measures aimed at pressuring Iran to drop its suspected weapons program.
Panetta has refused to comment on the report, saying the U.S. has expressed its "concerns" to Israel.
Reports, including in "The Washington Post," quote Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak as repeated a frequent U.S. refrain that "no options should be taken off the table" as fears mount of Iranian progress enriching uranium and carrying out other contentious nuclear activities.
"The sanctions approved recently are a step in the right direction and they should be tightened quickly until the goal of stopping the [Iranian nuclear] program is reached, if it is reached at all," Barak said, adding, "Today, unlike in the past, there is a wide understanding in the world that if the sanctions do not achieve the desired goal of stopping the [Iranian] military nuclear program, there will be a need to consider taking action."
The United States and European Union recently pledged themselves to fresh sanctions to thwart what they regard as Iran's intention to develop at least a nuclear weapon-making capacity.
China, meanwhile, has intensified its opposition to sanctions against Iran, arguing that such measures are hurting energy markets and preventing a global economic recovery.
A commentary in the "People's Daily," China's main Communist Party newspaper, says the Iran standoff is "posing the greatest uncertainty" as the world attempts to recover from an economic slowdown.
The commentary followed talks in Beijing between Chinese Premier Wen Jaibao and Chancellor Angela Merkel in which the German leader attemped to persuade Chinese leaders to play a more active role in persuading Iran to abandon its suspected weapons program.
China, the world's second-largest oil consumer, has resisted following Western bans on Iran energy imports. Premier Wen on February 2 said he objected to the West politicizing Beijing's "normal commercial relationship" with Iran and that dialogue should be used to resolve the dispute with Tehran.
The United Nations Security Council has passed four rounds of sanctions to discourage Tehran from sensitive atomic activities, and the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November accused Iran of work "specific to nuclear weapons."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week that the "onus is on Iran" to prove that its nuclear program "is genuinely for peaceful purposes."
Compiled from agency and RFE/RL reports