U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel on Sunday–marking the first official visit from a Biden administration official–and met with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
Gantz said the two discussed Iran and agreed the countries would work closely to ensure the regime in Tehran poses no threat to Israel with its nuclear program. He also said the U.S. and Israel would work to preserve the latter’s qualitative military edge in the region.
“The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to Israel,” Gantz said after the meeting.
“We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world, of the U.S., as well as prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the State of Israel,” he added
Speaking from the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, Austin said: “I was tremendously pleased on our discussion of a number of security issues which are important to our two countries.”
“I appreciated hearing Minister Gantz’s perspectives about the challenges in this region,” he said.
“This is a relationship built on trust that had developed over decades of cooperation. Our commitment to Israel is enduring and ironclad,” he added.
I just arrived in Israel where I’m looking forward to a series of robust discussions with our Israeli friends on regional security issues. I’m grateful to call Israel a major strategic partner. pic.twitter.com/DgPBtGvb0M
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) April 11, 2021
Austin is also slated to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. General Aviv Kochavi. He will also visit the Nevatim Air Base, home to the F-35 fighter jets, as well as the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
His visit comes amid indirect talks between the U.S. and Iran in Vienna about returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu delivered a sharp rebuke to the Biden administration, warning Israel would not be bound by a renegotiated nuclear deal with Iran that would see the Islamic Republic obtaining a bomb in a few years.
“The nuclear deal with Iran is once again on the table. Such deals with extreme regimes are worth as much as garlic peel,” Netanyahu said at the opening ceremony of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Gantz said he and his American counterpart discussed maintaining Israel’s superiority in the region “not only as a guarantee for Israel’s security, but as a guarantor of Middle Eastern stability.”
For his part, Austin said: “Our commitment to Israel is enduring and it is ironclad, and I pledged to ensure close consultation to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge and to strengthen Israel’s security.”
“This is a relationship built on trust, which has developed over decades of cooperation, and I look forward to building upon that trust in the years ahead,” he added.
Austin’s arrival coincided with emerging reports about an “electrical malfunction” in the Natanz nuclear site in Iran.
The power cut, said by Iran to be an act of terror, occurred hours after the site began enriching uranium at high speeds. According to Israeli media, Israel’s Mossad spy agency was behind the power cut.