WASHINGTON (Reuters) - US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta urged Israel on Friday to get back to the damn negotiating table with Palestinians and take steps to address what he described as the Jewish states growing isolation in the Middle East. Panetta, addressing a forum in Washington, also made one of his most extensive arguments to date against any imminent military action against Iran over its nuclear programme, saying he was convinced that sanctions and diplomatic pressure were working. You always have the last resort ... of military action. But it must be the last resort, not the first, Panetta said. Militarily strong, Israel is battling a diplomatic storm as Arab uprisings upset once-stable relationships in the Middle East. But Panetta warned Israel against viewing uprisings like the one in Egypt that toppled president Hosni Mubarak as an excuse to enter a defensive crouch. I understand the view that this is not the time to pursue peace, and that the Arab awakening further imperils the dream of a safe and secure, Jewish and democratic Israel. But I disagree with that view, Panetta said. He said Israel needed to take risks, including by breathing new life into moribund peace talks with Palestinians. When asked by a moderator what steps Israel needed to take to pursue peace, Panetta said: Just get to the damn table. The problem right now is we cant get 'em to the damn table, to at least sit down and begin to discuss their differences, Panetta said. Panetta said the United States would safeguard Israels security, ensure regional stability and prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon - a goal Tehran denies having. Israel, too, has a responsibility to pursue these shared goals - to build regional support for Israeli and United States security objectives, Panetta said. I believe security is dependent on a strong military but it is also dependent on strong diplomacy. And unfortunately, over the past year, weve seen Israels isolation from its traditional security partners in the region grow. Panetta suggested that Israel reach out and mend fences with countries like Turkey, Egypt and Jordan which share an interest in regional stability. It is in Israels interest, Turkeys interest, and U.S. interest for Israel to reconcile with Turkey, and both Turkey and Israel need to do more to put their relationship back on track, Panetta said. Turning to Iran, Panetta used some of his strongest language yet to explain US concerns about any military strike against Iran over its nuclear programme - which the West believes is aimed at an atomic bomb. Tehran denies this, saying its uranium enrichment is entirely peaceful. Panetta said a strike could disrupt the already fragile economies of Europe and the United States, trigger Iranian retaliation against US forces, and ultimately spark a popular backlash in Iran that would bolster its rulers. It also may not be effective. Panetta cited estimates from Israelis that a strike might set back Irans nuclear programme by one to two years at best. He finally warned about engulfing the region in war. Lastly I think the consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think could consume the Middle East in confrontation and conflict that we would regret, he said.