On Sunday, Lloyd Austin, United States Defense Secretary, declared an enduring and ironclad U.S. commitment to Israel, reinforcing support at a tense time in Israeli politics and because of questions about the Biden government’s efforts to revive nuclear negotiations with Israel’s archenemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Lloyd Austin’s first talks in Israel since he became Pentagon chief in January 2021 come as America seeks to leverage Middle East diplomatic progress made by the Trump government, which brokered a deal normalizing relations between several Arab states and Israel.
After meeting with Benny Gantz, Defense Minister in Tel Aviv, Mr. Austin said he had reaffirmed their commitment to Israel is enduring and ironclad. Moreover, Austin made no mention of Iran. Gantz, in his notes, while standing beside Austin, said his nation views the U.S. as a full partner against threats, not the least, Iran. No official took questions from reporters.
Benny Gantz said in his prepared statement that the Tehran of today presents a strategic threat to global security, the entire Middle East, and the state of Israel. They will work closely with their U.S. allies to ensure that any new deal with Tehran will security the vital interests of the world and America, prevent an unsafe nuclear arms race in their region, and protect the Israeli state.
A senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Yoel Guzansky, a Tel Aviv think tank, said Lloyd Austin’s visit is important in part because it’s the first by a President Biden’s Cabinet member.
Guzansky said that they want to express that they did come there with clean hands and they want to listen. Moreover, they want to listen to Israel’s worries and maybe other partners’ worries about the negotiation about Tehran.
Benjamin Netanyahu has maintained his criticism of the Iran nuclear deal
Mr. Austin is steeped in the finer points of Middle East defense and security matters. He served 4-years as head of United States Central Command, capping a forty-one-year Army career that included commanding American forces in Iraq.
Austin arrived in Tel Aviv flying overnight from Washington in the tense aftermath of the nation’s fourth inconclusive election in the past 2 years. Last week, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin gave embattled PM Benjamin Netanyahu the tough task of trying to form a new government.
The significant backdrop to Austin’s visit is the Israeli administration’s concern about the Biden government’s effort to work out an arrangement to re-enter the Iran nuclear agreement, which in Israel’s view is fatally flawed. Netanyahu has for several years described Iran as an existential danger to his country due to Tehran’s alleged pursuit of a nuclear warhead and its support for groups like Hezbollah of Lebanon.
Israel’s Netanyahu, leading a state with its own secret nuclear arms program, has accused Tehran of seeking nuclear arms to use with its ballistic missiles. Iran has maintained that its nuclear program is peaceful. Benjamin Netanyahu has also maintained his criticism of the Iran nuclear agreement, which, if followed, strictly limits Iran’s ability to enrich and stockpile uranium, blocking it from being able to make an atomic weapon.
Last week, Netanyahu said that history has taught them that agreements like that, with extremist regimes like that, are worth nothing.
Austin’s timely visit, given the US government’s moves toward engaging Tehran on its atomic program
Mr. Austin’s arrival as Iran reported that its underground Natanz nuclear facility lost power on Sunday just hours after starting up new advanced nuclear centrifuges capable of enriching uranium quicker. If Israel caused the blackout, it would further heighten strains between the two countries, already engaged in a shadow fight across the wider Middle East.
An Iranian ship said to be acting as a Revolutionary Guard base off the coast of Yemen was struck by an explosion last week. And Tehran blamed Israel for that blast.
Along with repeated assurances by GOP and Democratic administrations that America will endeavor to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge over its regional adversaries, Washington D.C for several years has invested heavily in helping Israel develop advanced missile defense technologies.
Iron Dome is one of the most-touted achievements in Israel’s missile defense. It is a mobile anti-rocket system developed to intercept short-range unguided rockets. It has shot down more than two thousand projectiles fired from the Gaza Strip since it was deployed about twenty years ago. The United States Army recently bought two Iron Dome batteries at the request of the United States Congress to counter cruise missiles.
The president of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) and a former Pentagon official, Michael Makovsky, said Austin’s visit is exclusively timely, given the Biden government’s moves toward engaging Tehran on its atomic program.
Makovsky stated that embracing and strengthening Israel sends a pointed signal to Tehran, which will only enhance a credible military option against Iran and United States leverage in the negotiations.
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