In welcoming the first member of the new American administration to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself and noted the most pressing threat to the Jewish state, that of the “fanatical regime of Iran.”
In his welcoming remarks to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Netanyahu underscored the solid relations between Israel and the United States, but he also wasted no time getting straight to the most important story of the past two days: Iran.
“Mr. Secretary, we both know the horrors of war. We both understand the importance of preventing war and we both agree that Iran must never possess nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. “My policy as prime minister of Israel is clear: I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel. Israel will continue to defend itself against Iran's aggression and terrorism.”
The secretary’s visit could not have been more timely. Just last week the U.S. opened up dialogue with Iranian leaders about rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iranian nuclear deal – something President Joe Biden has said he intends to pursue.
And his visit comes as Iranian officials reported an explosion at a nuclear facility that set back nuclear production by nine months. According to a report in The New York Times, Israel was behind the attack, which occurred just days after Iran said it was months away from producing a nuclear weapon.
Austin told Netanyahu he looked forwad to discussing “shared challenges” but avoided mentioning Iran specifically during his remarks with the prime minister. Austin spoke of his visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and said these atrocities should remind us to be diligent to avoid such horrors in the future.
He also spoke of the two nations' warm relations.
“I reaffirm the administration’s strong commitment to Israel and the Israeli people,” he said. “I thought it was important that we meet face-to-face to express our earnest desire for close consultations with Israel as we address shared challenges in the region.”
The U.S. is also committed, Austin said, to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and to pursuing more peace treaties between Israel and other Arab nations – a trend started by the Trump administration which brokered four peace deals between Israel and four Muslim nations under the Abraham Accords.
In a meeting with Gantz, the two also spoke of regional threats, but again Austin did not mention Iran.
Gantz, however, did.
“During our talks, I stressed to Mr. Austin that Israel sees the United States as a full partner on all operational fronts – the first of which is Iran,” Gantz said. “The regime in Tehran today constitutes a strategic threat to world security, the Middle East, and the State of Israel… We will together ensure that an agreement with Iran guarantees the vital interests of the world and of the United States.”
Gantz said that “the Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to the State of Israel, and 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 US, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the State of Israel.”
Austin did, however, mention Iran in a tweet hours after his meeting with Gantz.
“Thank you (Minister Gantz) for today’s important discussions on the regional threat environment and ways to deepen U.S.-Israel defense cooperation. I’m committed to continuing our close consultations on threats posed by Iran and to strengthening Israel’s security,” he wrote.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS