Israel Will Work Closely With U.S. on Any New Iran Deal, Gantz Tells Counterpart Austin

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) meets Defense Minister Benny Gantz, today.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) meets Defense Minister Benny Gantz, today. Credit: Moti Milrod

Defense Minister Benny Gantz told Sunday his American counterpart Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that Israel views the United States as a full partner in all operational theaters, including Iran, and that the two countries will work closely to ensure that any new deal with Iran prevents an arms race in the region. 

Austin landed in Israel earlier on Sunday, in a first official visit by a U.S. official since President Joe Biden took office in January.

Speaking In a joint statement, Gantz pledged to cooperate with the United States on Iran, voicing hope that Israeli security would be safeguarded under any renewed Iranian nuclear deal that Washington reaches.

"We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the State of Israel."

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin departs for his first visit in Israel.

Speaking after him, Austin said that the U.S.-Israel relationship is central to regional security, enduring and ironclad. It is built on trust, he said, and that he looks forward to building up that trust.

In his public remarks, Austin did not comment on Iran specifically. He said the Biden administration would continue to ensure Israel's "qualitative military edge" in the Middle East as part of a "strong commitment to Israel and the Israeli people."

"Our bilateral relationship with Israel in particular is central to regional stability and security in the Middle East. During our meeting I reaffirmed to Minister Gantz our commitment to Israel is enduring and it is ironclad," Austin said.

After meeting with Gantz and IDF chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Austin will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Austin, Netanyahu and Gantz will "continue close consultations on shared priorities, and reaffirm the enduring U.S. commitment to the U.S.-Israel strategic partnership and Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge," the Pentagon said in a statement last week.

Following his time in Israel, Austin will visit Germany, NATO Headquarters in Belgium, and the United Kingdom to discuss "the importance of international defense relationships."

A retired four-star general, Austin served in Afghanistan as commander of the 10th Mountain Division. From 2013-2016 he was the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Israel and Iran have in recent weeks reported sabotage to their ships at sea. Israel says it is trying to stem a build-up of Iranian forces within next-door Syria.

Last week, Iran and the United States started indirect talks in Vienna, with European mediators seeking to bring both countries back into full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal that Washington abandoned three years ago.

On Sunday, Iran's Press TV said an electricity problem had caused an incident at the Natanz underground uranium enrichment site, without casualties or pollution. Israel did not comment.

On Sunday morning, Kochavi said in a ceremony on Mt. Herzl that "The IDF's activity throughout the Middle East is not hidden from the eyes of our enemies."

He continued, "They watch us, see our capabilities and carefully consider their steps. Thanks to complex and sophisticated military and other activities, and thanks to IDF soldiers and their commanders, this past year was one of the safest that Israel's citizens have known. We will continue to act with force and consideration, decisively and responsibly, all in order to ensure the security of the State of Israel."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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