New U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hosted Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Pentagon on Tuesday, making a special effort to express warmth and friendliness toward his Israeli counterpart during their first meeting together since the prior assumed office.
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Hagel assured Barak during their meeting that he was committed to the security of Israel and of preserving the Israel Defense Forces' qualitative advantage over the armies of the Arab world. He also said that he would work to ensure that U.S. funding toward Israel, particularly with regard to its defense systems, would continue "despite fiscal uncertainty."
"Secretary Hagel is committed to working with members of Congress to ensure that there is no interruption of funding for Iron Dome, Arrow, and David's Sling rocket and missile defense systems," a U.S. defense official said.
Hagel's nearly two-hour-long talks with Barak represented his first face-to-face meeting with a foreign counterpart since he took over the Pentagon on Feb. 27.
The two ministers discussed a number of other issues during their meeting, including the Iranian nuclear threatand the crisis in Syria, particularly with regard to the use of chemical and biological weapons in that country.
The U.S. defense chief told his Israeli counterpart that all options were on the table to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon, adding that while the United States believes there is still time to handle the matter diplomatically, the window of time is closing.
Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, General James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command in the Middle East, said that it may still be possible to use sanctions and other pressure to bring Tehran to its senses. However he noted that the current sanctions and diplomatic efforts are not working.
Hagel, who came under severe attack from Republicans in the U.S. congress regarding his stance on Israel and the Iranian nuclear issue after he was nominated by U.S. President Barack Obama for the position of defense secretary, welcomed his Israeli counterpart with a show of honor. He approached Barak's vehicle, saluted him, and embraced him warmly.
At the end of the meeting between Barak and Hagel, the Pentagon issued an unusually long and detailed statement regarding their conversation, and published numerous photographs of the two together. The content of the Pentagon's statement seemed directed more to the American Jewish community and friends of Israel than to Israel itself.
Hagel noted the "outstanding working relationship" he and Barak have had since the latter served as premier of Israel, and thanked him for his "kind words" as the AIPAC Police Conference this week.
He also told Barak that he hoped to visit Israel soon, to which Barak responded that Israel would look forward to hosting him.