Defense Minister Benny Gantz returned from Washington on Friday after meeting Biden administration officials to discuss Israel's 11-day operation in Gaza and the regional face-off of Iran. The flash 24-hour visit was the first meeting to Biden's White House by an Israeli politician.
Gantz arrived in the U.S. capital on Thursday to meet with top U.S. officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan as well as with representatives from AIPAC, Washington's most powerful pro-Israel lobby.
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In a short statement delivered to the press, Blinken noted that the State Department is "very happy" to have the opportunity to continue the conversation with Gantz that began in Israel last week, regarding the United States' "enduring commitment to Israel's security," and "some of the needs that Israel has in that regard."
In their meeting, Israel's Defense Minister Gantz and his U.S. counterpart Austin discussed restocking the Iron Dome missile defense system, which had to contend with over 4000 Gaza rockets in the latest military operation. The two agreed that their respective teams will continue talks and present a full plan for the Iron Dome shortly, fresh on the heels of Republican Senator Lindsey Graham's revelation on Tuesday that Israel plans to ask for a billion dollars in urgent aid for the defense system.
The National Security Council said after the meeting that Sullivan had "reaffirmed President Biden’s unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself and commitment to strengthening all aspects of the U.S.-Israel security partnership, including support for the Iron Dome system."
Over the course of the visit, Gantz also reiterated that Israel's vision for rebuilding Gaza would involve strengthening the Palestinian Authority, and that any humanitarian assistance beyond the basic threshold remains dependent on prisoner exchanges with Hamas.
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Blinken stressed this subject when talking to press, and the work that "needs to be done to move forward on humanitarian assistance and reconstruction for Gaza and for Palestinians living there." In response, Gantz conveyed "Israel's appreciation for the administration, for the president, for [Blinken], for the ongoing support which is very important for us in our challenging area."
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also highlighted the importance of ensuring that “immediate humanitarian aid is able to reach the people of Gaza.”
In the press briefing, Gantz added that he is looking forward to continuing discussions about "the challenges that we have with Iran, the Palestinians as far as Gaza is concerned. We do look for stability and prosperity for everybody. And as defense minister, the combination between moving forward with construction and making sure that everything stays secure, it's very important for me."
Israeli officials have previously said reconstruction efforts cannot begin "without resolving the issue of the return of Israeli MIAs and civilians" believed to be held by Hamas. Democrats in both houses of Congress have urged for immediate action to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.
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During the visit, Gantz also presented information to his U.S. counterparts linking Iran to recent activities by Hamas and Hezbollah, with the U.S. also recommitting itself to preventing Iran from securing nuclear weapons.
Israel's Defense Minister stressed to National Security Adviser Sullivan on Thursday "the need to promote regional stability by halting Iranian aggressiveness, while strengthening the alliance of moderates, and protecting Israel’s QME," referring to Israel's qualitative military edge.
The White House also said on Thursday that Israel will remain an important strategic partner for the U.S. Asked whether U.S. policy would change if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was replaced after his 12-year run as premier, press secretary Jen Psaki said:
"Israel will remain an important strategic partner, one where you have an abiding security relationship, and that will continue."
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price also reiterated on Thursday that the United States "ironclad" support for Israel will continue regardless of what government is in place.
Gantz also met Thursday with officials from AIPAC, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington. Gantz said they "talked about the dramatic shifts in the Israeli political sphere, but, more importantly, about the concern for the safety of Jews everywhere, which unites us all." He added that "helping Israel stay strong in the face of threats and protecting Jewish communities around the world from rising antisemitism and intolerance are goals we will continue to pursue together."
Reuters contributed to this article.