Rumors about a possible Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities forced US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to comment on the reports, but not in the most reassuring way, saying that Israel has not yet made their decision on an attack.

“I don’t believe they’ve made a decision as to whether or not they will go in and attack,” he told reporters.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said recently that time was running out – a view also echoed by Israel’s ambassador to the US.

But Mr Panetta said the US believed there was still room to talk to Iran.

This is a case of the sides playing bad cop/”I don’t know what that guy’s going to do, he’s crazy” cop. This keeps the pressure and uncertainty on in Iran, while Panetta and confreres work behind the scenes to stop a strike before the election. I really think that’s the main concern. And they’re not all that interested in doing it in public. So Panetta having to come out and downplay comments from Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren represent an escalation of this effort.

Panetta added that sanctions, which grew stronger this summer with an EU embargo on Iranian oil, are “beginning to have an additional impact.” This, by the way, should not be described in benign terms. Sanctions “having an additional impact” means that more children are going hungry in Iran. They mean that more people have to sell all their worldly possessions for food. They equal suffering and hardship, weighed down not on those who are generating a nuclear program – which nobody in the US intelligence community has confirmed is a weapons program – but ordinary Iranians. And yet because the language has been filtered, new sanctions get signed into law seemingly every day.

Meanwhile, the sanctions supposed to be targeted at Iran are hitting the opposition forces in Syria:

The economic sanctions imposed by the Obama administration have forced many Western companies, including technology firms, to sever relationships with Syria and Iran. The measures have helped to isolate those governments internationally.

But many of the same measures also have blocked access to online services and software — including e-mail, blogging platforms and security tools that prevent user activity from being traced — that could be helpful to opposition movements, experts say.

“We are fighting on two sides: the side of the regime and the side of the sanctions,” said Dlshad Othman, a Syrian activist who works with opposition groups across the region.

Heckuva job everyone.