Less Than a Week to Election, U.S. Defense Secretary Visits Israel, Meets With Gantz

Mark Esper meets with senior defense officials to discuss defense cooperation and challenges posed by Iran, five days ahead of Election Day

Yaniv Kubovich
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Mark Esper and Benjamin Netanyahu meet near Ben-Gurion International Airport, October 29, 2020.
Mark Esper and Benjamin Netanyahu meet near Ben-Gurion International Airport, October 29, 2020.Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO
Yaniv Kubovich

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper visited Israel for a few hours on Thursday, less than a week before an election that will decide whether President Donald Trump will secure a second term.

Esper met with several top officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and military Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.

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In the meeting between Esper and Gantz, the two discussed defense cooperation and challenges posed by Iran. Gantz thanked Esper for his help in arranging a joint statement at the Pentagon last week in which Washington reaffirmed its commitment to Israel’s security and pledged to significantly upgrade Israel’s military capabilities for the sake of regional stability.

Gantz also mentioned plans for the U.S. to supply advanced weapons systems to Israel, saying that “the joint agreement we signed last week” will give Israel the tools it needs to cope with regional aggressors and preserve its military edge. That, he said, will allow it to continue being a strong American ally and create the necessary conditions for regional peace.

Last week, Gantz accused Netanyahu of knowing about a deal for the U.S. to sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE and hiding it from defense officials. “As defense minister I can say definitively that the defense establishment did not know of and was not informed of the negotiations to provide advanced weaponry,” Gantz said. Netanyahu denied the accusation, saying: “There is no basis for that claim.” Netanyahu added, “I can tell you that there were no undercover negotiations and that the sale of weapons was not one of the Emirati conditions for the peace deal. Only yesterday did we agree to it.”

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